U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today led a hearing titled, “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America: Administration Perspectives.” The hearing featured testimony from U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The historic hearing marked the first time five cabinet secretaries testified in front of a Senate committee at the same time since 2001.
Thune’s opening statement (as prepared for delivery):
“Today, we are here to discuss infrastructure in America.
“In 1956, President Eisenhower and Congress saw the need to move people and goods quickly across the country, and their vision of an interconnected nation paid off – helping to fuel years of economic growth.
“The infrastructure built in that era continues to fuel growth today, but now we face the challenge of maintaining and improving these critical assets.
“And our infrastructure needs are evolving in ways that would have been impossible to predict just a few decades ago.
“For instance, with the rise of the Internet and cell phones, we face the new challenge of building infrastructure to facilitate access to these technologies for everyone.
“The principle is the same today as it was then: our nation must stay interconnected.
“Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the statistics: the 56,000 structurally deficient bridges; the eight billion hours Americans are stuck in traffic each year; the list goes on.
“These statistics mean fewer jobs, less time with family, and lower growth.
“In rural states like South Dakota, millions of Americans lack access to reliable high-speed Internet, and aging transportation links between agricultural communities and global markets hurt our farmers and ranchers.
“In response to these needs, President Trump released an ambitious proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, by generating $1.5 trillion in total investment over the next ten years.
“The proposal would speed project delivery and lower construction costs, by limiting the permitting process to two years and reforming workforce training programs.
“The participation of five cabinet Secretaries at today’s hearing – something that is extraordinarily rare on Capitol Hill – underscores the Administration’s readiness and enthusiasm to work closely with the Commerce Committee and the rest of Congress on infrastructure.
“Collectively, we share the goal of developing a bipartisan plan that works for rural and urban areas alike.
“The Committee is joined today by a very distinguished panel: we have Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation; Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce; Alex Acosta, the Secretary of Labor; Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of Agriculture; and Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy.
“While the Senate Finance Committee will ultimately have to examine what we can afford and how we pay for it, we at the Commerce Committee first need to get the policy right, and make sure we are moving together with other relevant Committees of jurisdiction.
“As we do so, I’d offer a few principles for the consideration of my colleagues:
“First, this is not just another highway bill. We will consider other infrastructure needs, such as rural broadband and water projects, and seek to break down barriers that are impeding the deployment of all types of infrastructure.
“Along these lines, the Administration’s proposal takes a broad approach to infrastructure and offers several policy ideas to speed deployment.
“Second, we should build on our successful programs, and where necessary remove inefficiencies.
“The Administration’s proposal outlines important reforms to some existing programs, particularly on the infrastructure financing side.
“Third, we must ensure any legislation is national in scope and that all areas are appropriately included.
“Rural communities face unique difficulties due to lower population densities and challenging geographies.
“I appreciate that the Administration’s proposal acknowledges the acute needs in rural communities that lack necessary infrastructure.
“Investing in these areas of America will benefit the entire country.
“Fortunately, improving our infrastructure is an area where bipartisan agreement should be achievable:
- 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.
- Both sides want to make our existing programs work better.
“As exemplified by Ranking Member Nelson’s willingness to work with me on infrastructure legislation, both sides can come together on this.
“It can happen this year.
“Again, thank you to this distinguished panel of witnesses for being here today.
“I look forward to hearing your perspectives and suggestions for collaboration between the Administration and the Congress on infrastructure.
“I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for his opening statement.”