Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference on H.R. 3684, the INVEST in America Act
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Chairman Peter DeFazio, Chairman Frank Pallone and House Democrats for a press conference ahead of House passage of H.R. 3684, the INVEST in America Act, which directs federal investments in roads, bridges, transit, rail, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, reimagines our national transportation policies and helps meet the President’s vision to invest in American workers and communities while tackling the climate crisis head-on. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning. Good morning. I go first? Oh my goodness. I was here to salute the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Chairman Peter DeFazio. Because of his leadership, we are bringing a bill to the Floor today that not only builds the infrastructure of America, but rebuilds – helps to rebuild the middle class.
It does so in a transformative way, and you'll hear about it from our colleagues here. And in doing so, it does so with equity. That's what I'm so proud of in the bill. It put puts equity front and center; benefits targeted [to] underserved communities, communities of color, rural communities and regions with persistent poverty, in addition to everything else. It's called the INVEST in America Act, a strong jobs-creating package that seizes the once-in-a-century opportunity to rebuild America's infrastructure.
Thanks to our Chairman, Mr. DeFazio, who has decades of experience in all of this, and to do – and in doing so in a bipartisan way. Also, thanks to Chairman Frank Pallone of the Energy and Commerce Committee for the water aspects in here, and he’ll talk about that. He's joined, we're joined by Eleanor Holmes Norton. She will be – Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chair of the T&I Subcommittee on Highway and Transit, so important in all of this. Representative Donald Payne of New Jersey, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. Sharice Davids, Vice Chair of the – new-ish Member of Congress, effective from the start – Vice Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Paul Tonko, Chair of Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. Thank you for your leadership. And not with us, but with us in terms of developing the policy: Grace Napolitano of California, who has been, really, a champion of water resources, and she's on the Water Resources and Transportation Subcommittee.
This is all to say that these are some of the people, a good deal of the leadership, to bring this piece of legislation to the Floor. But all part of what President Biden has presented to us to Build Back Better, to Build Back Better, and Build Back Better in a way that many more people will participate in the, shall we say, the prosperity that this Building Back Better will bring to our country.
And so, without further ado, it is my pleasure, honor, privilege to yield to the distinguished Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with recognition of his years of service there; his understanding that to Build Back Better, we have to do so with a responsibility to our children to save the planet, to do so with equity as we create good-paying – I'll use a four letter word: jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.
Thank you, Mr. Pallone. Thank you so much.
The Co-Chair – the Chairs of the Subcommittees will be available to answer questions. We want to focus on this subject.
It is clear from the presentation of our two Chairs that the most expensive maintenance is no maintenance at all. And that also happens to be a safety issue in our country. So thank you both, for your leadership, and your Committees, on these important issues.
And, also, the leadership of President Biden has been so exceptional in recognizing our need, both from a safety standpoint, but also from the most – the most valuable commodity of all: time. With what our distinguished Chairman said about transportation and the rest, we’ll save time for people. They'll spend less time in transit. That will improve their quality of life, improve the quality of the air their children breathe, shorten the distance between getting to work or to school and to home, also shorten the distance of product to market.
So, again, the better we invest – the title of the bill – now, the less it's going to cost, and the better off the American people will be, in terms of the quality of our their lives, our lives, as well as the strength of our economy.
With that, any questions? Yes, sir.
Q: Could you – actually, one for Chairman DeFazio. Could you just walk us through how, once this bill passes, how it meshes or how it would mesh with the Senate bipartisan infrastructure deal, whether there has to be another bill passed in the Senate or just – walk us through it.
Chairman DeFazio. Well, the Senate bipartisan deal isn't – is an outline, and it has good numbers. Except I find them deficient on rail, but they're within shouting distance. So I believe we could work out the spending levels in the bill, but there's no policy attached to their proposal. You have to have policy to do a bill. And we also have to [have] policy in place before October 1st.
So, you know, I'm suggesting that substantial amounts of the policy in our bill should be, you know, negotiated by the White House and the Senate and the House to be part of that bipartisan proposal. And so, I'm actually encouraged by the – by the movement over there. It's substantially larger than what we saw out of EPW and Commerce. And, of course, we've seen nothing out of Finance or Banking, because of Pat Toomey’s hatred of transit. So there is no transit title in the Senate. But the bipartisan group has a robust a number for transit, but no policy attached.
Q: So, you see this as the vehicle to negotiate with the Senate over their package?
Chairman DeFazio. I believe that would – yes. Or they can just look at – I mean, I asked, you know how – you know, the Majority Leader would like to move quickly. And I said, ‘Well, you know, it took my staff seven months to write the policy. I don't know how quickly you can write policy over there. So I would suggest that you look at our policies, and we adopt significant portions of those and perhaps some of what came out of Commerce, and some of which came out of EPW.’
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: On the Select Committee, I'm curious if –
Speaker Pelosi. First – I'm happy to answer that question, but right now, we're focusing on investing in the future, creating good-paying jobs in an equitable way, and let's stay on that for now. Thank you.
Q: Just to follow up on Jonathan’s question. The process for integrating these DeFazio bill provisions – do you see a formal conference, Madam Speaker? How – are you going to engage in high-level negotiations? How does that actually mesh the two bills?
Speaker Pelosi. How do you see that, Mr. Chairman?
Chairman DeFazio. Well, you know, I obviously will ultimately defer to the wisdom of my leadership and the leadership of the Senate. But if they want to dispatch of this quickly – they're talking about July, which is a very, very quick timeline, if you're trying to, you know, negotiate policy in any major way. The numbers, again, shouldn't be too difficult. The pay-fors are outside my realm, so I can't comment on those at all. Then, you know, I would suggest it would probably be a much quicker, more informal process.
Chairman Pallone. I would also point out that, you know, the Senate passed a water bill, also. But it's a very similar situation, right? The numbers, the authorization levels are not as high, it doesn't have the water quality standards or the assistance program, but you could conference or, you know, work between the two Houses on that as well. Just like with the transportation.
Chairman DeFazio. I mean, again, there's a sense of urgency about surface because we have a deadline, which is October 1. And so, there is a sense of urgency there. Wastewater – we haven't – I don't know when the last time drinking water – wastewater SRF was last reauthorized in 1988. So, I want to get it done. I don't have – there's no deadline, since we haven't reauthorized it in 33 years. But, Approps always continues it, but I would like to get that done, you know, in short order, but it's not as urgent.
Speaker Pelosi. It is important, though, that we get the lead out and all of that. We have some urgencies, but in terms of legislative schedule, as the distinguished Chairman indicated, September 30th would be the deadline. But just to make the point that infrastructure – and my colleagues can attest to this – has always been bipartisan. It has always been bipartisan. In all the years that we've been here, we've come to – I've been here – Mr. DeFazio and I have been here some amount of time. You, too, almost, Mr. Pallone. We have seen bipartisanship in all of this. And that's what gives us hope that this can be done.
Q: On infrastructure, can I ask –
Speaker Pelosi. No, no. On the infrastructure. Yeah, but not – yeah.
Q: Right, infrastructure. I have another question. I’m curious if any of you on the stage have thoughts on the six trillion topline proposed in reconciliation. And if you can weigh in also between that and the four trillion price tag that President Biden put out.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, that's a different subject. That's not an infrastructure subject. That's a budget question. And the – we will see what the needs are. We will see what we can offset. We'll come up with a number. But that's not necessarily an infrastructure question.
Q: I have a question about the Assistance Program. Is there any more – can you give us some more information about that? Like, is this an eight billion that would be replenished at some point? And what kind of – how would you qualify for it?
Speaker Pelosi. The water program?
Q: This is the Water Assistance Program.
Speaker Pelosi. The Blunt Rochester. Yeah, that's sort of like LIHEAP for water.
Chair Pallone. That’s very similar to LIHEAP. And we did – we do have it in place now during the COVID emergency. But this would make it permanent. And it's – the amount of the – the level of eligibility in a poverty level, whatever, depends on the state. So, it varies from state to state, just like the LIHEAP program.
But the one thing – and this is where a lot of the Michigan delegation were involved – a lot of people have debt. You know, in other words, because of the moratorium during the COVID period, they’ve collect the debt. This wipes out their debt. And then it has a five-year no shut-offs and then the Assistance Program. But once your debt’s wiped out, then you're gonna have to pay. Otherwise, you know, you're gonna ring up debt again and have to – and owe more. But it's very practically oriented to try to help people who suffered during the COVID.
Chair DeFazio. Can I just say something? Let me – you know, sometimes, small examples. I had a neighbor just down the street from me. Her husband died. You know, she wasn't able to work. Two kids. And she couldn't pay her water bills and electric bills. And she went into default on her mortgage. She ultimately lost her house, but she had nowhere to go with the kids. And they lived there for a while with no electricity, no water and no sewer. Now, sewer is obviously a public health concern. Water, I think it should be – clean drinking water should be a public, you know, right. You know, electricity obviously is, you know, beyond our realm. But I mean that – I'm sure that story is repeated hundreds of thousands, millions of times across America. People you know who were losing their house, you know, can't afford to pay those bills, but they're staying there without things that are absolutely necessary for the health of themselves and their kids. That shouldn't happen.
Speaker Pelosi. Mr. Chairman, could you just explain for the benefit of those who might not know what LIHEAP is?
Chair DeFazio. Yep. The Low Income [Home] Energy Assistance Program, it's been around for decades, decades. And it's oriented toward, for the North, for the winter for heating, and to the South, for the summer for air conditioning. And obviously, now apparently, we need air conditioning in the North, too, but we don't yet – I mean, two thirds of people in Portland don't even have it. So, it has been a program that is always oversubscribed. You know, when my county puts out requests – Lane County – every year, at the beginning of the year, they are oversubscribed by the end of January for people applying to this. But what it does is it, you know, helps those people pay their electric bills. And that way, you know, they don't get into shut-offs, and I have a public utility and the public utility doesn't have to bear all of the burden of the payments that they can't make. So, it's, you know, it's a shared benefit for the community. It's a good investment by taxpayers.
Q: So, just to clarify, this would replace the LIHEAP?
Chair DeFazio. No. These are modeled on it – one for drinking water, one for wastewater. They're modeled on LIHEAP.
Q: Well, if you're ready to move on to the Select Committee, I did just want to ask a question on infrastructure as well. But just to clarify, getting back to the process, even though you’re voting on this package this week, Madam Speaker, can you just clarify, is it still your position that you will not vote on a bipartisan package or a reconciliation package until the Senate does it first – and then secondly, on the Select Committee, I know you’re considering putting a –
Speaker Pelosi. Let’s just stay on this subject that is here, and let us stay focused. The statement that I made, yes that is the statement I stand by. Our Caucus is very, very pleased with the bipartisan agreement that the President was able to achieve, working with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. As the distinguished Chairman mentioned, there are many good features to it, in terms of numbers, but not policy. What I said last week, and I reiterate now, is that in our – in the House of Representatives, that particular version, as it is, is something that we would take up once we see what the budget parameters are of the budget [reconciliation] bill that the Senate will pass. Yeah. That's right.
Q: Can I follow up on the Select –
Speaker Pelosi. No. One more on this subject. Anyone?
Q: Did you mean the budget resolution, Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. I just want to see if there's another question, because perhaps some of our colleagues would like to address some of this.
Rep. Tonko. Now, the Speaker has raised a very strong concern for our children about lead in our water. And Chairman Pallone has led a real good fight on Energy and Commerce. And, you know, Chairman DeFazio has incorporated that into his overall bill. But, our bill respects the forecasts made by the professionals that it will cost $45 billion to remove all the lead pipes, which covers the 400,000 schools and child care centers. So, this is critical in terms of having an accurate number.
And then we go another $53 billion into investment for infrastructure through the state revolving funds. So, we are significantly proposing a distinct amount of money that will go towards that lead pipe removal. And I hope that as we come to the table, that that decision will be respected.
Chairman DeFazio. I’d like to have my Vice Chair – I neglected to talk – we have a significant rural emphasis in this bill, which has been neglected, and my Vice Chair, who is key in that, Sharice Davis, would like to comment on that briefly.
Congresswoman Davids. Thank you, Chairman. So a couple of things. I actually would also like to make just a broad, a broad set of comments about how excited I am to get the chance to join my colleagues who have been working on these issues for a long time.
And I was just thinking earlier about – I was eight years old when the, when we talked about the – the renewal of some of these programs that have existed for a long time. Yeah, I was eight the last time we were talking about water. I mean, look, we are in a new age. We have an opportunity right now, for us to be able to make real investments, transformational investments in our infrastructure.
And coming from the state of Kansas, you know, the Third District – I am very fortunate to represent a district that has a strong, densely-populated urban area. In Wyandotte County and Johnson County, where we've got suburbs and exurbs, and then a portion of Miami County, which is rural. And you have to think about the ways that we're trying to connect all of these things.
There are a lot of people in our country who have needed these kinds of infrastructure investments, whether we're talking about people who are feeling the urgency, because they're sitting in traffic for a really long time, they aren't able to catch a bus because the bus routes have been reduced, or are just not able to get access to clean drinking water. You know, we're seeing rural communities are – have been hit really hard because of this pandemic. And, right now, the investments that we're making in all of these areas are exactly what this country has been asking for. It's one of the reasons that I fought to get on the T&I Committee, because if we want to thrive when we move forward, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, we have to – we have got to get this done right now. And, I think that the Leadership of the Caucus, Chairman DeFazio has been amazing. And I just – I really appreciate all the work that has gone into this, and also listening to the voices of tribal communities. I cannot – I can't leave the stage without saying thank you to the – to the House for doing that.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let me just say that that's one of the – there are many reasons why you should have been on the Transportation Committee, but we have been saying for a long time that we cannot rebuild the infrastructure, invest in the infrastructure of our country, without having tribal communities at the table. Whether we're talking about water, whether we're talking about transportation, whatever the subject, it is essential that they're – that they are at the table and that they are within the person of the Vice Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Chairman DeFazio. And territories. For the first time, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are getting an increase in their share in, I think, two and a half decades. Note, despite their growth.
Speaker Pelosi. Colleagues, anything?
Congresswoman Norton. I want only to say I've been on this Committee 30 years. Since I've been in Congress, we've just been paving over roads. I hope you see this for what it is. This is a once-in-a-lifetime bill, where we're trying to essentially go back over instead of pass – instead of passing the kind of bills we passed, to essentially understand that infrastructure is a much broader word and a much broader concept in our country today. And, this bill, with climate change as its forefront, seeks to take the Transportation and Infrastructure mark well beyond what our bills every few years have done in the past. It's a cosmic bill. And I'm very proud to have been the Subcommittee Chair that wrote the bill.
Chairman DeFazio. Don Payne, Chair of the Railroad, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
Congressman Payne. Well, I'd like to join my colleagues in saying that there's nothing more important than the infrastructure of this country at this point in time. We have an opportunity for the first time in decades to do something that is on the levels that we need to accomplish.
With respect to water, I remember going to Flint with Ms. Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, and thinking about that coming back home to Newark, New Jersey, and saying, you know, ‘I better take a look at this.’ And that Tuesday, we found problems in Newark. And what we've done in Newark, which might be a model for the country, we have just about – as Mr. Pallone said – removed all of our lead service lines, but it was in conjunction with the county and the state. And, you know, Newark is a community that is underserved. So a lot of those homeowners did not have the tens of thousands of dollars to fork up to do that. In conjunction with the state and the city, we got it done and Newark is about 100 percent done. I think it would be a really good model for the country.
Speaker Pelosi. So, I was just confirming with Mr. Pallone, Chairman Pallone, that when they, he and others, went under the tunnel with Chuck Schumer, you were with Secretary Buttigieg, and they've made this a priority in the Administration, as well.
So, thank you, my colleagues. I – we just have time for one or two more questions. Yes, ma'am.
Q: So just to get back to the Select Committee if we can, I know you're considering putting a Republican on the panel. Have you made a decision about who that should be? And does that make your decision harder if a majority of Republicans don't support this Committee today?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I will be making whatever statement I make about the Select Committee when I do, and that is not right now.
Staff. Last question.
Speaker Pelosi. Last question. What do you got?
Q: Just – just to follow up on that, is there – what are you seeking in your appointments for this Committee? And are there any non-starters on the Republican side that you would refuse to appoint?
Speaker Pelosi. As I said to the distinguished questioner earlier, when I make the statement, I'll make the statement, but what we are seeking is the truth.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.