Leahy opens hearings on president’s infrastructure bill

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 3:35 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Rural broadband was among the items on the agenda Tuesday as Senator Patrick Leahy held the first Senate Appropriations Committee hearing dedicated to the president’s massive infrastructure plans.

The sweeping bill would also fund traditional infrastructure projects like roads, highways, bridges, transit, and airports, while chipping away at the problem of climate change.

Leahy has a long history of bipartisan compromise working with Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, his Republican counterpart on the committee, but a compromise will likely hinge on what lawmakers consider “infrastructure” to mean. Shelby says the current proposal contains too much spending that isn’t related to what they consider infrastructure.

“What kind of investments can we agree fall under the category of infrastructure? I believe most people associate the term with roads, with bridges, airports, transportation systems, water systems, sewage systems, and the like,” Shelby said.

“You know, there were days when they’d say infrastructure and it meant only bridges, highways, roads and rail, but to narrow our view of infrastructure to just this is not only prosaic, it reflects a willful ignorance of the real needs facing our communities, our cities, our nation at large,” Leahy said.

Leahy says broadband expansion in rural areas will be a key area. He says 20% of Vermonters don’t have access to quality high-speed broadband. “I think of the families that shivering in their cars, parked somewhere near where they could get broadband for their children to get their education. It’s meant the difference between receiving potentially life-changing telehealth services, or not, and facing unnecessary deaths. It’s meant the simple things like connections with family and friends or not,” he said.

President Biden has said he wants to see progress on these negotiations by this summer.

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