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Wyoming's Delegation Suspicious Of House Democrat's Infrastructure Bill

Liam James Doyle/NPR

After dropping more than $3 trillion and counting on the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, Republicans decided to hide the nation's credit card. But with the pandemic worsening, along with this recession, both parties are recognizing Congress has more work to do. President Trump has called for sweeping infrastructure legislation in the past, so Democrats tried to see if he meant it and passed their $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this month. Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and other GOP leaders helped convince all but three Republicans to oppose it.

"Unfortunately, each time the speaker picks sort of this partisan agenda that she knows isn't going to become law. So I think, you know, it's unfortunate because it's a real missed opportunity when we have real infrastructure needs and, you know, those are the kinds of things we ought to be doing instead of this, the Green New Deal agenda," Cheney said.

Cheney complains that around 40 percent of the package is Green New Deal spending. She's accusing Democrats of using what little time Congress has focusing on issues aimed at the November's election, not the American people.

"We're in a situation where we've had multiple issues come up over the course of the last two weeks, in particular, whether it's about police reform, whether it's about healthcare, whether or not infrastructure, where there could have been bipartisan agreement, and where there are major parts of the issues that really could we could come together on," Cheney said.

Close to $500 billion of the Democratic bill is aimed at reauthorizing the nation's surface transportation programs - everything from roads to bridges. The legislation also infuses tens of billions of dollars into urban priorities, like funds for electrical car charging, while also putting more federal dollars into mass transit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says her proposal will spark life into this ailing economy.

"When we talk about building roads and highways and bridges and transit and rail and airports and ports and harbors, that is so important, because it's job creating in its essence. But's it's also commerce promoting, so it grows the economy of our country," Pelosi said.

Like Congresswoman Cheney, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains dubious, especially because he sees House Democrats as trying to sneak the Green New Deal past Republicans.

"Number one, spend an insane amount of money. Number two, check every far left ideological box. Number three, propose bad policies, and four, forget about making law from the very beginning so you can legislate in a world of pure fantasy. Well - check, check, check, and check," McConnell said.

House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, says their bill is vital, because it would begin to address climate change.

"This is the most transformative and consequential transportation and infrastructure bill - bigger than my committee - in the United States of America," DeFazio said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Wyoming's John Barrasso chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Last year, his committee unanimously passed legislation aimed at boosting American infrastructure, which has yet to be taken up by the full Senate. Unlike the Democrat's bill, his is focused more on traditional, concrete and steel projects; not the modern transportation investments Democrats and environmentalists are calling for. Barrasso rejects Democrat's attempt to combat climate change, and instead wants to unwind regulations to make it easier to greenlight big projects.

"Part of what has passed the committee that I chair in the Senate, the environment, Public Works Committee, actually helps us get projects done. faster, better, cheaper, smarter, that's what people in Wyoming are looking for," Barrasso said.

Barrasso says he's still got the president's ear on his proposal.

"There are things that we need to do from an infrastructure standpoint, I talk to the President about that regularly," Barrasso said.

And Congresswoman Cheney - a Republican leader in charge of the party's messaging - dismisses Democrat's bill as all politics.

"If you know the legislation is not going to become law and you go ahead and you put it on the floor when you could have a bipartisan agreement then there's no other interpretation except this political and it's really too bad because it hurts the country," Cheney said.

With party leaders like Cheney and Barrasso brushing aside House Democrat's transportation bill, many political watchers are wondering whether this divided Congress can overcome bipartisan disagreements during an election year.

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