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Wyoming Delegation Opposes Infrastructure Proposal

Npangarkar (WMF) via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Back in March, Democrats passed a whopping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, which included stimulus checks and more benefits for the unemployed. Less than a month later, President Biden unveiled a roughly $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill. Wyoming senior Senator John Barrasso says it's fiscal insanity.

"So when I look at all of this spending in the $2 trillion plan, I'll tell you, this isn't Monopoly money. It's real money. You just don't get to pass go and get another $2 trillion to spend," Barrasso said.

Democrats are quick to point out what they call GOP hypocrisy from party leaders like Barrasso, who is the number three Republican leader in the Senate. That's because under the last administration the GOP dropped trillions of dollars on tax cuts. But with the International Monetary Fund estimating the economy will witness more than 6 percent growth this year and with millions of Americans still out of work or underemployed, Biden says now is no time to let up on the gas - as he told the nation in his first address to Congress.

"That'd be the fastest pace of economic growth in this country in nearly four decades. America's moving, moving forward, but we can't stop now. We're in competition with China and other countries. To win the 21st century. We're at a great inflection point in history," Biden said.

That's where Biden and congressional Democrats are trying to use this recession to rebuild America in their party's own image - an image they say will make Americans healthier and wealthier.

"We have to do more than just build back better. We have to compete more strenuously than we have throughout our history but think about it: public investment in infrastructure has literally transformed America - our attitudes as well as our opportunities. The Transcontinental Railroad, the interstate highways united two oceans and brought a totally new age of progress," Biden said.

Besides Biden wanting to do things like lay broadband in rural areas and eradicate all lead pipes in the nation, the president also wants to provide average workers with paid sick leave while also providing childcare tax credits. Barrasso doesn't like the sound of that one bit.

"But we need core infrastructure. The things that people in Wyoming think of as infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, water systems, things that people in Wyoming really care about, and we need to take care of," Barrasso said.

Barrasso chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee until Democrats won the majority in the Senate. In the last Congress he ushered through a bill aimed at improving the nation's physical infrastructure. While Biden is calling for more than two trillion dollars, Barrasso's highway bill was for only around $300 billion. He notes that the bill had bipartisan support.

"I voted for it and Bernie Sanders voted for it. It was the highway bill: roads, bridges, highways, important things that matter for the country. So if we have that kind of bipartisan agreement in the Senate, we should then use that as the core to build upon," Barrasso said.

But there's little appetite for bipartisanship in Washington these days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants a bipartisan measure but that if Republicans don't get behind Biden, then he's prepared to go it alone.

"We believe a bill has to have strong climate provisions. We believe that the tax code and some of the inequities that the Trump tax cuts caused have to be changed. So we will look for bipartisanship wherever we can. But the number one goal is a big bold plan along the lines of what President Biden has proposed," Schumer said.

More moderate Democrats are balking at the price tag, while progressives, like New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say "it's not nearly enough" because she wants to use the package to force Americans off fossil fuels.

A couple weeks back Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney was on Face the Nation to discuss the sweeping proposal.

"This is a pattern that we watch the Democrats use time and again, where they massively increase spending, they massively expand the size and scope of the federal government. And then they come back around and impose middle class tax increases. So those are not things that we support, not things that I support," Cheney said.

Like Barrasso, Cheney supported Trump's trillions of dollars in tax cuts, though now she's singing a new tune.

"I'm really concerned about the impact on the economy, the potential inflationary pressure that we might see with this additional injection of cash. And so much of it is unnecessary," Cheney said.

Barrasso is now the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee. From that perch he's trying to convince energy-state Democrats to join him and reduce Biden's proposal.

"We are working together and have made a Republican proposal to the White House that really focuses on that core, that hard infrastructure, leaving out all of the other things like the green new deal and things like these cafeteria trays that are supposed to be recyclable in the future and so-called climate justice. If we leave that behind, I think we can actually get an agreement with the White House," Barrasso said.

Though it remains unclear if that small of a proposal is something Barrasso can get this new president to agree to.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.

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