In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021, file photo is Interstate-95′s mile-long double-decked Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia. Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Senate are trying to make Gov. Tom Wolf's administration start over on its plans to toll up to nine major bridges, approving a bill Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to require the state Department of Transportation to undergo a new process that includes approval from the Legislature.
Lucy Perkins is a reporter/producer for 90.5 WESA’s Government and Accountability team. Before joining the 90.5 WESA newsroom, Lucy was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. She also helped produce the Hidden Brain podcast and NPR’s 2016 election night special coverage. Lucy joined NPR as a Kroc fellow after interning with Michigan Radio. Lucy is a proud Midwesterner, from the tip of Michigan’s pinky finger.
(Pittsburgh) — As President Joe Biden struggles to find support for his massive infrastructure plan, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb is playing a key role in crafting a more moderate proposal with the hopes of getting bipartisan buy-in.
The proposal Lamb’s working on would spend $1.2 trillion over eight years, compared with Biden’s original proposal of more than $2 trillion in spending. And while Lamb’s plan does include funding for some green infrastructure — which progressives have said must be included in order to get their support — it notably leaves out the Biden administration’s goals to allocate funding to social services.
“There’s a big chunk of what Biden is promoting which I also agree with,” Lamb said in an interview with WESA Thursday. “It’s things like home-based and community care, long-term care, universal pre-K, public schools, all that. The Republicans were never going to be for that. They’ve been really clear that they’re never going to be for that.”
While Biden’s proposal did have a lot of backing from Democrats, Lamb was quick to point out that it didn’t have enough support in either the House or Senate to pass.
Andrew Harnik / AP Photo
Rep. Conor Lamb speaks during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Community College of Beaver County, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Monaca, Pa.
“What we’re trying to do, in cooperation with the administration, is establish a bipartisan path forward for the things we can agree on, which I think will then open the path for all Democrats to unite,” he said. “I see this as a bridge to those priorities, not something that cuts or takes away from those priorities.”
Lamb said Republicans have made concessions of their own in the talks he has been involved with.
“When you have Republicans in the trillions, that’s a major, major accomplishment in this day and age,” he said. “And secondly, of that [$1.2 trillion], there’s about $450 billion — or more than a third of it — that you can call green money or decarbonizing money.” That includes initiatives to wean heavy industry and the electric grid from fossil fuels, and increased funding for public transit.
One specific climate priority from Biden’s plan is also included in Lamb’s approach: $24 billion to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.
“Nobody else has ever brought Republicans with them at that dollar level for things that are pro-climate,” Lamb said. “But we’ve got 29 Republicans in our caucus, so that’s a major achievement.”
Lamb’s been working with New York Republican John Katko as well as other members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus — which includes Pennsylvania Democrat Chrissy Houlahan and is co-chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick — to craft the alternative plan.
But the group still hasn’t cleared the most contentious hurdle: how the spending should be paid for. Republicans, including Pennsylvania Pat Toomey, have suggested reallocating pandemic funding that hasn’t been spent yet. Biden’s plan proposed raising corporate taxes to 28 percent, which would undo much of the 2017 Republican tax cuts.
“I will tell you, we have Republicans who openly admit that they would be okay with raising the corporate tax rate to 25, maybe not to 28 [percent],” Lamb said. But he noted that the Republicans in his caucus are more moderate than the loudest GOP voices in Congress.
“The Republicans in our group, by and large, are people that did not vote to overturn the election” in January. “Many of them voted to impeach Trump the second time. They are people of honor and they’re open-minded. They may not agree on all the other priorities we’ve talked about….but you can have a realistic discussion with them about the way the tax code has been so skewed to the ultra rich.”
Other infrastructure ideas are also in the works. Senate Republicans, including Sens. Mitt Romney, Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins, say they’ve reached a tentative agreement, but Democratic leadership hasn’t ruled out passing a bill without any Republican support. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week he may try to pass the bill using reconciliation, a procedural strategy that only requires 51 votes in the Senate for passage.