South Dakota Congressmen speak on infrastructure proposal and what it may bring to the state

KELOLAND.com Original
Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, with a bipartisan group of senators, walks to speak Thursday June 24, 2021, outside the White House in Washington. Biden invited members of the group of 21 Republican and Democratic senators to discuss the infrastructure plan. For a president who had campaigned on his ability to work across the aisle, Joe Biden’s announcement of a bipartisan deal on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was a victory. He was flanked Thursday by Democrats and Republicans alike, who dutifully spoke about the virtues of consensus. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — President Biden has announced faltering support for a new trillion dollar infrastructure proposal that was hammered out by a bipartisan group of Senators.

Biden signaled support for the bill Thursday before adding that his support would be contingent upon a second, separate piece of infrastructure legislation.

Despite the concern over the infrastructure package’s future, the work to get it to this point is quietly continuing.

KELOLAND News spoke with Senator Mike Rounds over the phone on Friday. Rounds is one member of the bipartisan group of Senators who have been negotiating the deal over the past months, and he struck a tone of cautious optimism when discussing the negotiations.

“The outcome has not been decided yet,” Rounds cautions. “We’re entering this in good faith because we think it’s important that we really do try to work with the president. He’s still gotta follow through with his end on it.”

While the outcome is still in flux, Rounds provided some idea of what the package could look like. “In terms of new spending it’s about $580 billion. The total expenditures, including the repurposing [of unused COVID funding] will be really close to just under $1 trillion.” That, says Rounds, would be over the course of at least five years, allowing for time to develop plans and build the actual infrastructure.

In terms of what this would bring to South Dakota, Rounds says there are definite areas in which the state will benefit.

“Rural water development; 5G distribution; cybersecurity upgrades in your internet connections; you’ll see improvements in terms of funds coming in to upgrade the roads; your municipal water systems; your electrical systems. All of those are items that are very important to South Dakota, and those are the kind of items that are included in this infrastructure package.”

Sen. Mike Rounds

These elements of the proposal are the result of much discussion between the involved Senators, who have had to work to come to a decision on what exactly they would define as infrastructure. “Infrastructure to us,” says Rounds, referring to his fellow Republicans, “is roads, bridges, highways, ports, airports, water projects, improvements in electrical lines, 5G development and so forth.”

Rounds says that Democrats initially wanted to include elements that the Republican members did not consider infrastructure, referring to them as social welfare programs. Rounds says those items were fully stripped from the bill, but that this hasn’t been a one sided process. He says at one point there was a discussion of inflating gas taxes. “Most Republicans didn’t like that idea, and it turns out the President did not like it either,” he says. “We thought that this was a time to put a fee on electric vehicles — the President did not want to do that, and so that was taken off along with the gas tax.”

Overall Rounds explains that the process has been heavily bipartisan, saying there have been a number of times in which the group has reached a consensus.

“I’ll just give you an example — Joe Machin who is working with me on the cybersecurity committee; I was the chairman of that committee and Joe was the ranking member. We worked together and it was probably the largest part of the National Defense Authorization bill last year. This year now he’s the chairman, I’m the ranking member — but we’re working together right now on additional major changes stepping forward on cyber security. We’re doing it on a bipartisan basis.”

Sen. Mike Rounds

Overall, Rounds says this deal will be available if House Democrats and the President want it. “This deal is available for the taking,” he says. “It’ll be up to the President to decide if he wants to proceed with it.”

Rep. Dusty Johnson also gave KELOLAND his take on how proceedings have been going, saying in a video statement that he approves of the bipartisan nature of the bill, and that while it is larger than he would like, he “won’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

KELOLAND News also reached out to the office of Sen. John Thune, and were directed to this tweet that was posted Thursday.

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