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VINTON — Despite bipartisan agreement that it’s time to “plus-up” spending on the nation’s infrastructure, disagreement over just what qualifies and how it’s paid for are likely to continue to push back the arrival of infrastructure week, Republican members of Iowa congressional delegation said Friday.
“I do think it's time to plus-up infrastructure spending,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said during a visit to Frazier Tree Farm near Vinton.
However, she said she wants the spending to be focused on what Americans typically think of as infrastructure — like public works projects.
“So when I asked Iowans, they say it's roads, bridges, waterways, broadband,” Ernst told reporters. “But when you start throwing extra stuff in there,” she said about Democratic proposals for expanding Medicare for seniors and other so-called human infrastructure like child care and family tax credits, “it makes it that much harder, especially when it comes down to the pay-fors. What Republicans don't want to do is raise taxes on those hardworking middle-income Americans.”
Like Ernst, 1st District Rep. Ashley Hinson is on the fence when it comes to supporting an infrastructure package. The Marion Republican sees the need for improving roads, bridges and broadband, but said she can’t support the level of spending President Joe Biden and House majority Democrats are proposing.
The bipartisan infrastructure framework calls for spending nearly $1 trillion over five years, including about $579 billion in new spending on roads, broadband and other public works projects. However, that’s just the first phase of Biden’s infrastructure agenda. He wants it to be followed by a much broader $3.5 trillion measure from Democrats.
“When we hear all this talk about inflation and then possibly using a reconciliation package as a vehicle to get this through, it's a major red flag” said Hinson, and for other Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee.
Democrats plan to bring up spending bills next week, “so the appetite for more and more spending is very clear.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who joined other Republicans in voting against starting debate on a bipartisan infrastructure bill that senators had not seen, expressed similar concerns earlier in the week. He said he’s supportive of an infrastructure package, especially the funding to build out broadband, which Iowans have called for in at least two-thirds of his county meetings this year, he said. However, he said he needs answers on how it will be paid for.
Hinson and Ernst have doubts that Democrats can pay for their plans without raising taxes on middle-income taxpayers. Even if they stick with Biden’s proposals to tax corporations and only those people with incomes of more than $400,000 a year, they see those taxes being passed on to consumers.
“It's a nice talking point,” Ernst said, “but the fact of the matter is that costs are going to go up. That will impact everyone regardless of their income level.”
If the Senate can reach an agreement on infrastructure — and she said she hopes it does — Ernst expects the House will approve the package and send it to the president.
“I think the folks in the House will be hard pressed to reject it,” Ernst said. “There's such a slim margin in the majority over there and a lot of Democrats are interested in getting this done.”
Hinson isn’t sure that the House won’t have the same arguments senators are having as they try to find common ground.
“I think it is going to be as hard as in the Senate judging by what we've seen with the packages Democrats passed on a hyperpartisan basis just a few weeks ago,” Hinson said, Just as in the Senate, she added, the main sticking points are the definition of infrastructure and how the trillion-dollar package would be paid for.
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