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Viewpoint by Sen. Kevin Cramer: The real numbers behind the bipartisan infrastructure law

The Infrastructure IJA is a worthwhile investment in hard infrastructure. And unlike the assertion ‘every penny is borrowed,’ this law is fully paid for without raising taxes while repurposing unused COVID spending.

Kevin Cramer
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota)
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In a recent opinion piece, Forum columnist Ross Nelson either expressed incredible ignorance or intentionally lied to the readers about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act . Not only is his math and logic drastically flawed, it does not jibe with reality.

About the only accurate point was I voted for it, a fact I’ve never shirked from.

The IIJA is a worthwhile investment in hard infrastructure. And unlike the assertion ‘every penny is borrowed,’ this law is fully paid for without raising taxes while repurposing unused COVID spending.

Let’s start with the real numbers. I am the ranking member of the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee, which gave me a seat at the table when drafting these must-pass bills. Lest we forget, if the highway program were not reauthorized, the backbone of our interstate commerce would cease to exist.

Last May, conservative and liberal senators alike, unanimously passed the largest highway bill in history. It provided more than $300 billion for highway programs over a five-year window. Similarly, I worked with my colleagues to pass the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which included $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater projects for five years. Both these provisions authorize programs for five years. However, the Congressional Budget Office’s archaic rules require them to estimate funding for 10 years even if that’s not what the law says. CBO acknowledges ‘assumptions’ were made for the remaining five years: ‘CBO therefore estimates that an additional $399.6 billion in contract authority would be available over the 2027-2031 period for a total of $782.5 billion over the 10-year period.’ Said plainly, nearly $400 billion of the $1.2 trillion is an assumption not actually written into the law. Not to mention this law is a fraction of the $2 trillion packages both Presidents Biden and Trump advocated for.

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But let’s assume the CBO is correct. The $1.2 trillion bill contains nearly $800 billion of funding in just highway programs and the remaining $400 billion is made up of critical energy, airport, broadband, port and water infrastructure investments. Even someone following common core logic would acknowledge this adds up to far more than just 10% of hard infrastructure investment.

The law provides over $2 billion for just North Dakota’s roads and bridges, a 50% increase. Similarly, the IIJA made over half a billion dollar investment in our state’s water infrastructure needs. The vast majority of the funding from the IIJA empowers states by delivering the money by formula, giving flexibility to states rather than federal dictates. These investments are not theoretical, they are already coming to North Dakota.

Nelson also espoused the absurd notion that other states’ infrastructure is of no concern to North Dakota. Our state is literally the center of the North American continent. No oilfield worker, business owner or farmer gets their goods to market without using the roads, bridges and waterways of other states. Throughout the debate on the IIJA, I frequently pointed to North Dakota’s durum growers as an example. Their produce is the key ingredient in pasta. It goes from the field to a grain elevator to a mill to a processing plant. It will never reach a grocery store in California, a restaurant in New York, or a port in New Orleans without the roads, bridges, rail and waterways interstate commerce relies on. As conservatives, we believe in the Constitution, and the Constitution charges the U.S. government with the power to facilitate interstate commerce.

Most importantly, the law pays for this spending without raising taxes, or further borrowing. Remember, every time you fill up your tank at the gas pump, you’re paying a gas tax which funds the Highway Trust Fund specifically for our nation’s infrastructure. The law includes permitting efficiencies so projects are not stuck in endless red tape while repurposing $210 billion in funds previously authorized for COVID-19 relief.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act isn’t perfect, but it is conservative and responsible. Democrats stoked the demand side of our economy with trillions of dollars overheating the economy while we emerged from the pandemic and leading to the record-high inflation we see today. Couple this overstimulation with the prolonged supply chain crisis, investing in infrastructure is a critical infusion in the supply side of our economy.”

Kevin Cramer, a Republican, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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