CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER
Rep. Abigail Spanberger is chomping at the bit to see the House of Representatives pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill and pump some of its once-in-generations benefits into Virginia.
On Tuesday, the 7th Congressional District Democrat told the president that, and pressed him on the priorities and funding she is most eager to see the legislation bring to the commonwealth.
“I am super excited to see this bill passed and deliver billions of dollars to my state,” Spanberger said in an interview with the Culpeper Star-Exponent. “Everyone agrees on it.”
She described the infrastructure bill, approved in August by the Senate, as “a vote away from becoming law.” The Senate bill passed with 69 votes, including that of Senate Majority Leader and Republican, Mitch McConnell.
In the House, the infrastructure bill failed to come to a vote last week, with Democrats split over whether to link its passage with Biden’s much larger Build Back Better Act, which has yet to be written or have its price tag set.
Spanberger was one of 11 swing-district Democrats who talked Tuesday morning with Biden in what she described as “a really productive” virtual meeting on infrastructure and the Build Back Better Act.
A diverse group, the legislators represented a broad swath of the country, from Texas to Pennsylvania to Arizona to Georgia. In earlier races, all had flipped traditionally Republican House seats; most of them are newer to Congress. Democrats currently have an eight-seat House majority.
Turning to the administration’s Build Back Better Act, the two-term Virginia lawmaker said she urged the extension of the child tax credit provided by the COVID-19 pandemic’s American Rescue Plan, the ability to negotiate lower drug prices through Medicare.
Spanberger, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said the infrastructure bill would bolster U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs that benefit farmers and help cope with climate change. It would fund climate programs that will help the Chesapeake Bay and protect Virginia communities from rising sea levels, she said.
“I’m incredibly impatient to move this bill forward and see its impacts, which have been needed for decades,” Spanberger said.
In public transit, the infrastructure bill would be the biggest thing since Amtrak was created, Spanberger said. For highways, it would deliver the biggest bridge investment since President Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System, she said.
The bill offers $40 billion nationwide for bridge repair, replacement and rehabilitation.
“The impact on Virginia is clear,” Spanberger said. “We know we have hundreds of bridges in disrepair. That adds to commute times and the wear and tear on vehicles. These investments are important overall to ensure we stay (economically) competitive.”
The legislation would provide $7 billion for Virginia highways and $537 million for Virginia bridge replacement and repairs over five years. The state has 577 bridges and more than 2,124 miles of highway in poor condition.
“I’m really excited about the infrastructure bill because its impacts will be significant and clear,” funding roads, public transit and improvements to the Washington area’s Metro system, Spanberger said. “It’s a bill that makes real investments.”
According to her office, the bill would provide $1.2 billion over five years to improve public transportation in Virginia.
The infrastructure bill would also make big strides in equipping Virginia households with high-speed access to the internet, an essential utility, Spanberger said.
“Here in Central Virginia, I’m excited about its tremendous prospects for broadband,” she said.
Combined with the efforts of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, Spanberger said the infrastructure bill “would really put broadband on a rocketship-style trajectory, delivering broadband connectivity across the commonwealth.”
The measure would allocate $100 million to expand broadband internet in Virginia. More than 1.9 million Virginians would be eligible for an expanded Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families get high-speed internet access.
And the legislation would provide more than $100 million for electric-vehicle charging networks across the state, enabling motorists to drive longer distances between stations.
“That’s important, given how much people commute,” Spanberger said.
She recalled visiting a training program in Henrico County that builds EV-charging stations, touring it with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm a few weeks ago. “Knowing that there was more ahead coming down the road,” she said it was great to talk with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 666 apprentices and see them working on that bit of America’s future.
“There are more and more electric vehicles on the road. We’re at this pivot point in our economy,” Spanberger said. “There’s a job that people are ready to do, and there’s money ready to help propel it. We just gotta vote and push it forward.”
The infrastructure bill would deliver $106 million for Virginia over five years to expand its electric vehicle charging network. The state could also apply for $2.5 billion in nationwide grants for EV charging, the congresswoman’s office said.
As a coastal state, Virginia would benefit from the bill’s provisions on flooding and climate resiliency, Spanberger said. It would provide $238 million to restore the Chesapeake Bay and help make it more resilient against climate change.
The bay watershed is a “very important economic driver,” the legislator noted.
In Central Virginia and across the country, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would create jobs and physical infrastructure projects.
With $47 billion nationwide for climate resilience measures, the bill would help communities weather increasingly severe storms, droughts, floods, fires, heat waves and sea-level rise, support FEMA flood mitigation grants, and improve mapping so households and businesses can better protect themselves from flooding.
Spanberger acknowledged she is frustrated the House has not voted on the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August.