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tv   U.S. Senate Senator Cornyn on Infrastructure Bill  CSPAN  August 4, 2021 10:14am-10:31am EDT

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[inaudible conversations] >> the senate is back today at 10:30 a.m. eastern to continue work on a a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. senators vote in the afternoon on an amendment from wisconsin republican ron johnson that
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would prohibit border wall projects from being canceled under the legislation. yesterday, texas republican john cornyn spoke about an amendment that he's proposing that would allow covid-19 relief funds to be used to pay for certain infrastructure projects. >> as we all know by now a bipartisan group of senators worked with the white house over the last several weeks to negotiate a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, and in a lot of hard work went into it, a lot of late nights. and what to thank all of our colleagues that it made a positive contribution in this debate and discussion. and it's particularly important at the time i believe that we do these things on a bipartisan basis, if we can. after much anticipation we finally received a text sunday night, and a lot of what we expected to see we saw, like funding for roads, , bridges, ports, waterways, airports and
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broadband. but what we didn't see was adequate pay-fors for the bill. for example, we learned after the bill was announced that it would be essentially supplemental to the current infrastructure bill which would require another $118 billion in general revenue to fill the gap left because of the inadequacy of the highway trust fund we have all know that's a problem. we had to use general revenue last time we did a highway bill, but that hasn't really been part of the discussion. and i think once people begin to see an additional $118 billion in borrowed money in order to pass this bill, it causes significant concerns. and i guess the other part of it is this bill seems to be moving at warp speed. under normal circumstances and infrastructure bill would go through a long and arduous
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process. and i know the environment and public works committee has passed a highway bill reauthorization twice unanimously come once under democratic leadership and once under republican leadership, so that's a positive sign. but this is really a huge amalgam of legislation that frankly only about 20% of the senate is intimately familiar with. so ordinarily any committee both sides with debate a built-in hearings, markups, evaluate the costs and offer a nimitz before we get to this process. but t now we know that has not happened, franco, and i think it's enforced because ite think our committees are not operating the way they should which in turn i think helps us produce a better, more thoughtful product. we simply skip the normal steps that would allow members to raise concerns about the bill long before we got here and offer changes to improvement.
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so as i said before and in others have said as well i hope the majority leader will offer ample time and opportunities for members on both sides of the aisle to debate and amend this legislation. robust amendment process is essential. >> the senate will suspend. the senate will come to order. members and staff please take a conversations off the senate floor. senator from texas. >> over the last few days i've been working with colleagues ono both sides of the aisle to identify new pay-fors that could be adopted as amendments. we've come up with some i think promising ideas and out these amendments can receive a vote on the senate floor this week. for example, i have worked with senator padilla, the senator from california, to offer one by percy amendment to find infrastructure projects in communities across the country without increasing the debt. our amendment would simply give the state anden local governmens the flexibility to use unspent
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covid-19 funding on infrastructure projects here it would eliminate the sunset on the use of the signs and it would take the guardrails off that say you can only use that money for covid-19 because to be honest, mr. president, the states, counties and cities have more money than t they know how to, what, how to, what to do with at least constructively. i think we all would have an interest in making sureey that money is spent well on long-term projects. what i just said is not necessarily a criticism of the bills that we passed together on a bipartisan basis. we were in the midst of a a pandemic and we were all operating in an emergency situation trying to do the best we could, but we did know how long this virus would last, how long it would take to get a vaccine, how long the negative impact on our economy would last. and so frankly we overshot the
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mark i think in some aspects of the bill, thus leading to the surplus of funds that many of our state and local governments. so right now there are limits on how that money can be spent. qualified expenses include things like that are directly related to the pandemic like covid-19 testing sites, vaccine psa is an additional bed space in hospitals. but this funding can't currently be used for expenses unrelated to the pandemic or items that were previously included in a budget. they must be new pandemic related expenses. as i said, in theory at the time we did this that made a lot of sense after all, this funding was meant to bolster the fight against covid-19 in communities across our country. but not every community and not every state has the need for these types of projects. in many places the most urgent needs are not related to the pandemic but rather the failing infrastructure. the pandemic interrupted
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infrastructure permits across the country and enforcement officials to put these projects on the back burner. repairs, maintenance, construction projects were put on hold until that was enough funding to get things back on track. i've heard from state and local leaders in my state who were frustrated by the lack of flexibility by the handcuffs,, frankly, on the use of the federal funding that they already received. they want the option, not the mandate, they want the option to use this money when and where it's needed most but right now as i said their hands are tied. many states and localities have relief funds on hands no necessary qualifying expenses. they have to look at this big balance in their accounts knowing it won't be able to spend it on the greatest needs of their communities. and, frankly, they areds frustrated because i fired from them. that's especially the case and rural america and place of work covid-19 number are low. leaders don't have the need for
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the opportunity to spend this money within the set timeline for the purposes that congress has dictated. they don't need the full range of pandemic related resources that might be necessary if other high density urban areas with higher case counts. so c the amendment senator padia and i have offered would give leaders in rural and urban areas like the option to spend the funding unnecessary infrastructure projects. this does not touch the negotiation between the white house and the so-called g20, e vipers in groups of senators, who come up with a substitute bill which is the base bill we are now debating. this would be in addition to and, frankly, this a be the most efficient way to find many infrastructure projects in our states and communities because as we know once congress appropriates money for equally it takes years before that money makes its way to the need. this could mean widening a
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highway, making safety improvements on a bridge, expanding rod banned access. urban areasra could even use the funds for public transit improvement systems. state and local leaders know the needs of their communities best, and they should have the flexibility to spend this money where it is needed most. the key here is flexibility. and here's the other benefit. it doesn't cost another dime. this is money that we we've y spent an already sent to the states. so the scores have a big zero. calmly times to have the opportunity here to do something big and important that doesn't run up the debt or deficit or cost us a lot more money? so the key here is flexibility. our amendment doesn't place or requirementoc a mandate on state and local governments to spend this funding on anything. any place that has new covid expense can cover, to cover can and should use this funding for the purpose, no questions asked.
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this simply gives leaders at the local and state level the option to spend those relief funds on urgent infrastructure projects that might otherwise go unfunded or that might not be funded for years to come. i still remember president obama at one point after his great recession in 2008 and the recovery when he talked about, when he talked about shovel-ready projects. he said well i guess shovel ready doesn't really mean shovel ready. and the truth is with seen a time and time again, congress appropriates money to statets ad local governments and it literally takes years before the money gets to the intended target. this short circuits that project because the states and local government already have that money and they can spend it for this purpose, if we will pass this amendment. i'm not alone in thinking this is a good idea. back in march nearly three dozen organizations wrote a letter to secretary yellen urging her to
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make transportation infrastructure and eligible expense. he talked about the of covid-19 onco transportation revenues and noted that last year 18 states and 24 localities announced delays or cancellations of transportationn improvement projects totaling more than $12 billion. these same three dozen organizations noted that the pandemic has impacted every state and community differently, thus the key flexibility. they said flexibility will be critical to ensuring funds are used expeditiously and with maximum impact. and that's really what we're talking about here sector biden's own transportation sector suggested as much. testimony before congress secretary buttigieg said the american rescue plan has some flexibility in it that he thinks can be usedd to support road budgets that been impacted. states and cities shouldn't just
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be able to spend this money. they should be able to invest it in projects and resources are communities need the most. this is simply a commonsense change both sides should be able to get behind. it interest monies that is only going out the door will be used before it expires. it puts a decision-making at the local level and gives leaders more flexibility to decide how to use this federal funding on their most urgent needs and it does as i said without increasing the national deficit at all. this amendment has won the support of a broad range of organizations across the country and i'm proud to work with senator padilla to craft this amendment in the way that both sides can get behind it. in the coming days i hope this will be one of many an image that will receive a vote on the senate floor perhaps as early as today. we have to ensure that infrastructure investments are p made fairly and paid for reasonably. and a robust amendment process is the only way to get there.
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mr. president, i would just add in closing some of my colleagues have said that they support this amendment, but they would be inclined to vote against it because they feel like this somehow violates the agreement that the bipartisan negotiating group had with the white house. but as i described it, it doesn't touch, it does not touch, that underlying substitute bill. why to does is it unleashes these funds in states like connecticut, michigan, west virginia,et texas, and lets our state and local leaders figure out if they n can't use these funds if they don't need these funds for covid-19, how they can use them in t a way that will he the biggest, most significant economic impact on the infrastructure in their states. so i hope my colleagues who some ability that they have sworn a blood oath with the white house not to support any amendments
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that change underlying substitute, i don't know what, why were voting on amendments unless it is to change the underlying substitute. because that's our constitutionaln. function. it i is somehow a parallel universe in which the white house, a different branch of government, is telling the senate what amendments we can and cannot pass. as we all know that's not the way the constitution is written. the constitution said if our prerogative as senators representing our states toic voe on policies that we think are best for our states and for the country. and yes, the president has an important role but his role is to veto it if he doesn't like it, not rewrite it come not to tell what amendments we can vote on or not vote on. that's a perversion of the constitutional system. and i think for matters of institutional integrity and pride, senators would be very jealous about guarding their
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authorities under the constitution rather than delegating these to the administration. i expect this is going to be a long road. we have already heard speaker pelosi's a she's not going to pass this bill once the senate passes it until she has a chance to pass the 3.5 trillion plus reconciliation bill at the same time. this is going to be a very bumpy process, but the idea that we cut off access to our states and local governments have hundreds of billions of dollars of unused funds to do in their discretion with the think needs to be done, not a mandate, or rather a permission to do so, to turn down this opportunity to get this money where it's needed most in these big impact infrastructure projects makes no sense to me. so i would encourage all of our colleagues to support this amendment. thank you, mr. president. >> the senate about to gavel in.
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today lawmakers will continue working on an amendment to the infrastructure for which includes more than $1 trillion in funding. it it provides money over several years for roads, bridges, public transit, rails, water projects, airports, broadband internet, and electric vehicle charging stations. live coverage of the senate here on c-span2. the presiding officer: the senate will come to order. the chaplain, dr. barry black, will lead the senate in prayer. the chaplain: let us pray. eternal god, in these challenging days our hearts are steadfast towards you. empower our ak

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