WASHINGTON – After President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled a $2 trillion plan to create jobs and update the country’s aging infrastructure, Sen. Maria Cantwell said the proposal could be transformative for Eastern Washington and the broader Northwest.
In addition to improving roads, bridges, airports and transit systems, the wide-ranging “American Jobs Plan” would invest billions to provide broadband and clean drinking water, improve housing and schools, modernize VA medical centers, boost manufacturing and more. Biden promises it would create millions of jobs and speed the transition to clean energy.
“Spokane represents a continued growth opportunity,” Cantwell said, “but infrastructure – whether that’s fixing at-grade (railroad) crossings or connecting the North-South Freeway – is a big priority, and this kind of funding would certainly help.”
Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, will play a major role in crafting legislation based on the White House plan. She released a report March 24 on delays and danger caused by street-level railroad crossings, including nine in Spokane County, which she hopes could be improved using part of the $80 billion Biden’s plan includes for freight and passenger rail.
The White House says the plan would pay for the investments within 15 years by raising taxes on corporations and people who earn more than $400,000 a year, drawing criticism from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
“Raising taxes in the middle of an economic crisis is incredibly misguided,” Crapo said in a statement. “Prior to the pandemic, our economy was the strongest it’s ever been. Unemployment was down and real earnings were up, especially for low-wage earners. Unemployment rates for minorities were at record lows. Small business owners were reporting record-level employee compensation and more job openings than qualified applicants.
“These outcomes will resume once our economy can reopen completely, provided the Administration’s proposals to raise taxes on vulnerable American businesses are not enacted into law.”
Speaking in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Biden said he would consider other ideas to pay for the plan so long as they don’t raise taxes on individuals who make less than $400,000 a year.
His proposal also would increase the federal corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, still below the 35% rate that existed prior to the 2017 tax cuts that were former President Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievement.
The unveiling of Biden’s plan follows the passage by Congress of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package with only Democratic votes, but Cantwell said she hopes the infrastructure package will garner support from Republicans, who have given it a chilly reception.
“As the president is saying, this is once-in-a-generation kind of investment,” Cantwell said. “I think there’s a little more room here for bipartisan negotiations, definitely more room for bipartisan input, and I hope that’s what we’ll do.”
The White House proposal also includes $10 billion for nationwide monitoring and cleanup of PFAS, a flame retardant chemical that has contaminated water supplies around Fairchild Air Force Base.
Cantwell highlighted the $213 billion included in the plan to provide affordable housing as well as funding for workforce training and improving the aerospace supply chain as components that could be especially beneficial for Eastern Washington.
One thing that’s not likely to end up in the Senate bill, Cantwell said, is Rep. Mike Simpson’s $33 billion proposal to end the Northwest’s “salmon wars” by breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River and compensate stakeholders for the benefits the dams provide. The Idaho Republican has said he hopes his concept could be included in the infrastructure package.
“This concept from (Simpson), I don’t know that it’s as detailed as it would take to spend that level of investment,” Cantwell said. “Something that’s not widely supported and (where) people aren’t on the same page, that stuff just gets jettisoned so soon in the process, just because there’s so much to do.”
Nevertheless, Cantwell said she expects components of Simpson’s plan – like next-generation nuclear power or salmon habitat restoration – could receive support through the infrastructure package.