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Spanberger cheered by progress on infrastructure, Build Back Better Act

Abigail Spanberger on infrastructure bill in Richmond

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, joins labor groups and business leaders to rally for the House infrastructure bill, in Richmond’s Capitol Square on Oct. 12. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also participated.

Abigail Spanberger is enthused about the road, water, broadband and other improvements she and Virginia’s local leaders anticipate will begin emerging from President Biden’s just-enacted infrastructure plan.

The 7th Congressional District lawmaker is also irked about how long it took Democrats in the House of Representatives to put the package on the president’s desk, she said in an interview with the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

“I am very, very excited talking about infrastructure; that’s the bill that’s been signed into law,” the two-term Democrat said on Friday, shortly after the House passed the bipartisan Build Back Better Act. “That’s the one that’s moving forward. ... The other is on its way, but not yet there.”

America must invest in its physical infrastructure if it is to provide essential services to its people, keep Americans safe, and compete with foreign rivals, Spanberger said.

“I think what happened in Texas (last winter) was a pretty big wake-up call for a lot of people, in terms of what it means to have a vulnerable electrical grid,” she said. “What happened with the Colonial Pipeline, from a cybersecurity standpoint, demonstrates just how vulnerable our systems are.”

In Virginia alone, thousands of miles of roads and hundreds of bridges are in disrepair, with fixes decades overdue, she said.

Now, Culpeper County is among the Virginia localities that stand to benefit from the infrastructure law.

Based on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year improvement plan, Spanberger’s office anticipates that any of these local projects could be funded by it:

  • State Route 522 Improvements
  • Improvements to the Route 3 and McDevitt Drive Intersection
  • Route 229 widening from two to five lanes
  • Sidewalk improvements and connections between Sunset Lane and Madison Road
  • Sidewalk improvements and extensions on North Main Street
  • Sidewalk improvements on Sperryville Pike
  • The Hoffman Lane sidewalk expansion

The $1.2 billion plan will help the United States be more competitive internationally, Spanberger said.

“Look at countries like China, which have made major investments in infrastructure and, frankly, in other countries’ infrastructure to curry favor, do soft diplomacy, or because the investments are a good one,” she said. “China is doing that.”

At home, the infrastructure bill will aid the beleaguered U.S. trucking industry, and help ease supply-chain challenges, she said.

“We need to plan for the future of transport across our country--roads, bridges, trains. Trucking is an important industry that’s vital to our communities,” Spanberger said.

The bill will provide federal support for the recruitment and training of more truckers. and expand a pilot program enabling 18- to 21-year-old truckers to transport goods across state lines, which they cannot do now, she noted.

The bill also makes it U.S. policy that internet broadband is a vital utility just like the electrical grid, an important and visionary shift in attitude, the lawmaker said.

As to water projects, Spanberger said she is already hearing from Board of Supervisors members eager to get information on how their localities can tap those funds.

The infrastructure plan will make major investments in improving water systems, and in replacing toxic lead pipes in old utility networks, she said. Lead exposure can impair brain development in children.

“It’s a health of our nation choice, an investment in the future choice,” Spanberger said.

She minced few words in criticizing her own party for taking so long to ship the House infrastructure bill to Biden and send its version of the Build Back Better Act to the Senate.

A pragmatist, she had opposed linking the two packages, as House progressives demanded.

“I never understood or supported the notion that we had to hold up progress on one because the other was not finished,” Spanberger said.

Asked what caused the long delay, she replied, “Ridiculous stalling would be my answer. A kind of partisan gamesmanship, all on my side of the aisle.”

The Senate passed its infrastructure bill in August, she noted. But then a few House Democrats engaged in months of brinkmanship, trying to leverage their votes on infrastructure to achieve their ends on the Build Back Better Act, although some of them didn’t even vote for the end result, she said.

“Allowing them to hold it hostage when they were only then going to vote against infrastructure is, in my mind, ridiculous,” she said. “I hope we’ve learned our lesson. if people want to hold good legislation hostage, perhaps their opinions should be discounted.”

The Henrico County resident said she repeatedly told House leadership that jockeying over the Build Back Better Act shouldn’t slow action on the infrastructure bill.

“I have been very, very clear that the House should not have held this bill at all, (yet) ultimately that is what happened,” she said. “I was really vocal in calling on the speaker to bring it forward. On multiple occasions, she said she would. ... It’s up to the speaker and majority leader who control what comes to the floor, and when. I made great issue of my disagreement with them on that.”

That said, Spanberger rejoiced over the infrastructure bill’s passage, and joined Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., at Biden’s signing ceremony Nov. 15 on the White House lawn. “It was an important time to celebrate the success of this bill, which will directly and immediately begin delivering for Virginia,” she said.

The lawmaker noted that the infrastructure bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support from legislators as different as Lindsey Graham, Elizabeth Warren, Mark Warner and Mitch McConnell.

“We’ve been hearing about infrastructure for years,” Spanbeger said of the issue.

Donald Trump, as a candidate, campaigned on the need for an infrastructure overhaul, saying that U.S. airports were broken, she recalled.

“Well, billions of dollars are going to go to updating America’s airports, our railways and our infrastructure,” she said. “That was finally achieved in the first 10 months of President Biden’s tenure. Bipartisan, negotiated, back and forth, in meeting after meeting at the White House.”

She called the bill’s passage “particularly special” to her because, back in April, she attended a bipartisan summit to craft the measure at Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s mansion with more than 25 House and Senate members and Mid-Atlantic governors, including Va. Gov. Ralph Northam and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, of which she is a member.

Spanberger said she was proud to vote Friday for the Build Back Better Act because it would deliver high-speed internet, widen Interstate 95, cut prescription-drug prices, extend the refundable Child Tax Credit, and help tackle the climate crisis. She called some of those measures “smart, responsible investments in Virginia’s families, children and economy.”

With the Build Back Better Act now being considered by the Senate, Spanberger was optimistic about it getting signed into law. She acknowledged it is a work in progress, and expects changes to the bill.

“When it finally comes out, it will be a really important piece of legislation that will have valuable things for our communities,” she said. “I am excited about what this bill will deliver, particularly on some of the climate-change provisions and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. It’s vitally important we make these investments.”

Spanberger recalled meeting a gentleman at a memorial event on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He urged her to keep pressing Congress to cut rising drug costs. His son was a diabetic, hurt by the steep price of insulin he needs every day. “The cost of insulin impacts everything he does,” he told her.

“Capping the price of insulin would be transformative in the lives of people, who must now make hard decisions on what they can afford,” Spanberger said. “That’s exciting to me.”

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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