By Sen. John Thune
As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ve hosted my fair share of memorable hearings over the last three-plus years, several of which have included folks from right here in South Dakota. While they’re all notable for one reason or another, my recent hearing, which featured five of the president’s cabinet secretaries, will likely be one of the more memorable events – for the topic we covered, the people who attended, and the history that was set.
In the mid-20th century, President Eisenhower and Congress saw the need to move people and goods quickly across the country. Their vision of an interconnected nation paid off, helping fuel decades of economic growth. The infrastructure that was built more than one-half century ago continues to fuel the economy today. With aging infrastructure, though, we’re facing challenges when it comes to maintaining and improving these critical assets.
It’s with that in mind that I invited several members of the president’s team to come up to Capitol Hill to examine the current state of infrastructure in America and discuss potential policy options that we can pursue in Congress to help strengthen and modernize it.
It was the first time in nearly two decades that five cabinet secretaries testified at once during a Senate hearing. Secretaries from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Labor, Energy, and Agriculture all addressed their department’s role in developing strong and robust infrastructure across the nation, which continues to evolve in today’s more technologically advanced society.
While the underlying principle of keeping our nation more interconnected remains the same, the way we do it is always changing. It’s no longer just roads, bridges, and railroads that primarily define our nation’s infrastructure. For example, in rural states like ours, lack of access to reliable high-speed internet can make all the difference in the world for a family or small business.
In response to these growing needs, the president released an ambitious proposal to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and help bring it further into the 21st century. He hopes to achieve these goals – goals that I share – by limiting the overly burdensome permitting process and reforming workforce training, both of which would help speed up project delivery and lower costs. The president’s proposal also dedicates funding to rural community needs since toll roads and other revenue-dependent strategies for building new infrastructure in urban areas wouldn’t work in states like South Dakota.
The Senate Finance Committee, of which I’m also a member, will be responsible for examining ways to pay for these proposals, but it will be up to other committees, like the one I chair, to first develop them, and I hope this is an area where bipartisanship is achievable.
For example, both sides want to invest in and modernize our infrastructure. Both sides want that investment to address an array of infrastructure needs – not only roads and bridges, but also needs like broadband and waterways. Both sides want to break down barriers for innovative technologies. And both sides want to make our existing programs work better for South Dakotans and the rest of the American people. Together we can make it happen.