Democrats Push Infrastructure Plan as Next Phase of Covid-19 Response

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hold up the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — House Democrats on Wednesday rolled out an estimated $770 billion plan to build up U.S. infrastructure, launching into phase four of the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on a press conference call the interest on Capitol Hill to shore up American infrastructure has always been bipartisan. The speaker said the new plan, closely resembling a proposal with a $760 billion price tag that Democrats introduced in January, will likely cost close to the original figure with an added $10 billion investment in community health centers. 

Stressing the need to make the next Covid-19 response package as bipartisan as possible, the speaker described the legislation as “ready to go, just receptive to any changes.”

“We have had overtures from the administration on how we would go forward and we will be working to get that done,” Pelosi said. 

The House is scheduled to return to Washington on April 20, with members currently working from their districts in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. “God willing and coronavirus willing,” the speaker said, Congress can return to pass the new bill at the end of the month.

In the meantime, committees will work remotely to prepare the legislation to be taken up. 

“This is so essential because of the historic nature of the health and economic emergency that we are confronting,” Pelosi said. “We must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.” 

The multifaceted plan includes $86 billion to extend high-speed internet access to low-income and rural communities, to help facilitate teleworking, telehealth and schooling from home while Americans continue to follow social distancing guidelines. 

“I am gravely concerned that things are going to get a lot worse in rural areas and low-income communities that are especially educationally disconnected and medically underserved,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told reporters on the call Wednesday. 

Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone said in his home state of New Jersey, community health centers like the ones planned for construction under the proposed legislation are now more important than ever. 

The Democratic congressman’s state is the second hardest hit by Covid-19, with 22,255 confirmed cases and 355 deaths as of Wednesday. 

Pallone said many people go to community health centers because they can’t find a doctor or don’t want to overburden emergency rooms. 

He also stressed the urgency for safe drinking water under the current crisis, with $25.4 billion allocated in the new plan to replace old water systems and build new ones.   

“People are at home, they’re told to wash their hands and sanitize their homes and they can’t be in a situation where the drinking water is cut off or they don’t have money to pay for it,” Pallone said. 

Warning that the expected recession from Covid-19 could devolve into a full-blown depression, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., compared the infrastructure plan to the surge in wartime manufacturing that pulled America out of the Great Depression. 

DeFazio said the failure to make significant investments in U.S. infrastructure since 2009, for example, has left 47,000 bridges across the country structurally deficient and 40% of national highways in need of rebuilding. 

In the wake of coronavirus, the congressman added, the economy will need long term recovery efforts.

“Make no mistake,” DeFazio warned, “this is an incredible economic blow to America.”

The proposed infrastructure plan follows a $2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump last week that includes checks for most Americans as well as hundreds of billions of dollars for small businesses and large companies.

That was the third legislative measure in response to the coronavirus outbreak, after an $8.3 billion emergency aid package and another bill that includes free virus testing and paid sick leave.

On Tuesday, Trump urged lawmakers to pass an infrastructure bill with a price tag as high as $2 trillion.

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