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Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I couldn't agree more with the Senator who just spoke that we are in a situation where the all-time approval rating of this body seems to have reached an all-time low. There are justified reasons for the frustration and for the anger of a very broad run of our constituents, of the folks who hired us to come here from our States of West Virginia and Delaware, from Arizona, and others to try to fix the problems confronting this country. And much of the mess, many of the things that got us into this problem have not been solved.
I rise today to speak about one way forward out of it. I think one of the reasons there is so much frustration with Congress and the general public is there is broad support for some simple solutions to get Americans back to work, to revive and strengthen our economy, and we just seem incapable of reaching across this partisan divide and moving forward. One of those is an infrastructure bank.
I rise today to follow up on a speech I gave yesterday about why investing in American infrastructure means investing in America's future. Infrastructure--building roads and bridges, highways and sewer systems, modernizing America's backbone--enjoys very broad support from all across the United States, from all different sectors, because Americans understand it will put folks back to work in the building trades industries that have taken the hardest hit in this recession and in a way that will lay the groundwork for our long-term future competitiveness.
This is smart spending. This is investing in the best tradition of Federal, State, local, and private partnerships to make America more competitive for the future.
I want to talk about one element of the bill which I hope we will move to later today, the American Infrastructure Financing Authority, or known more colloquially as the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank.
If this idea sounds familiar, it is because it has already been introduced. It is a bipartisan bill, the BUILD Act, championed by Senator Kerry and Senator Hutchison, of which I am a cosponsor, and one that provides a creative financing vehicle for building infrastructure going forward.
Before becoming a Senator in the election just 1 year ago yesterday, I served for 6 years as the county executive of Delaware's largest county, and one of the services our county was responsible for was running a county-wide sewer system. We had 1,800 miles of sanitary sewer, and it was a constant challenge to maintain. That is a lot of pipe, a lot of pump stations, and a lot of sewage backing up in people's homes in the middle of the night, which led to a lot of aggravated calls from constituents.
It was an aging system like so much of America's infrastructure, one in which we had underinvested for too long. From personal experience, I can tell you that the lack of infrastructure, of adequate sewer capacity was a major to barrier to future growth. So, too, across States and counties and cities all over this country. Where the roads and rail, the ports, and the sewer systems aren't up to current global standards, we can't expect to grow to meet our global competitors.
When we talk about capital infrastructure improvements at the local level in the government I used to be with, it wasn't some wish list. This wasn't some future technology. This wasn't some risky investment. It was triage. It was critically needed investment in pipes in the ground that would protect our water, strengthen our community, and grow our economy.
As a nation, the American Society of Civil Engineers has told us we need $2.2 trillion over just the next 5 years in infrastructure investments to keep America moving forward. We are talking about fixing unsafe bridges, dealing with clogged highways, and rebuilding airports so they can handle larger modern aircraft safely. That is an enormous scope, $2.2 trillion over just the next 5 years. We are already asking so much of the supercommittee in terms of finding dramatic savings and reductions in Federal spending. Where will this level of investment come from to put America back to work?
So, in my view, we have to get creative. We have to leverage. We have to bring in more resources than are currently on the field, and especially now, especially in this country I think we have to be smart about how we spend our funds.
The Rebuild America Jobs Act, to which I hope we will be moving later this afternoon, would put $50 billion directly into infrastructure, put $10 billion as a downpayment into making possible this new infrastructure bank, seed money that makes possible loans and loan guarantees--not grants--for a wide range of infrastructure projects, including energy, water, and critically needed transportation. Remember, we need more than $400 billion a year in investment right now just to keep up. But we all know the constrained budgets of our counties, State, and local governments can't get the financing they need. This infrastructure bank would provide the leverage, a vehicle to finance desperately needed projects.
Just a few things about it. It would be for big projects, projects that cost more than $25 million in rural communities, $100 million in the rest of the country. It would only be allowed to finance up to 50 percent of a project to avoid crowding out private capital and to make sure that private capital has skin in the game so it is a viable project. It is my expectation, in fact, that the infrastructure bank would finance a much smaller piece of most projects, just enough to bring private investment to the table. It would be government-owned but independently operated, have its own bipartisan board of directors, and function much like the successful Ex-Im.
An infrastructure bank passed by the Senate this week could provide up to $160 billion in direct financial assistance over its first 10 years to infrastructure for transportation.
That would be paired with private investment that could double, triple, or even quadruple, increasing the full impact of this bank.
I said yesterday that infrastructure is a smart investment for our country and that a national infrastructure bank as a part of that strategy would provide a vehicle for the private sector to get in on this investment as well and to help us accelerate our move toward the future. This is smart policy.
It is a funny thing about infrastructure, how we inevitably take it for granted. Whether you are running a State highway system or a county sewer system, you never know how much people miss it until it isn't working the way they expect.
Unfortunately, in cities, counties, and States across our country today, companies and communities are discovering that our aged infrastructure is imposing costs on us we cannot bear. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which I have referred to before, recently released a study saying that our Nation's deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure alone could result in the loss of nearly 1 million jobs and will suppress our GDP growth by nearly $1 billion between now and 2020. That is an enormous loss of future economic activity.
We cannot put this off any further. As a country, we cannot keep swerving to avoid these potholes on the path to prosperity. Eventually we are going to hit them, and eventually they will continue to be a drag on our Nation. The Rebuild America Jobs Act would fill these potholes, would patch these pipes, would lay the new runways to allow America's economy to take off.
This Rebuild America Jobs Act, which would rebuild 150,000 miles of roadway, maintain 4,000 miles of train track, upgrade 150 miles of airport runways, restore critical drinking water and wastewater systems, is nothing short of the smart investment we need to be competitive for the future. It would put people back to work, it would steer us on the right road to sustained recovery, and it would fix the problems that lie right in our path as we try to do our jobs for the folks who hired us to come here and help them get back to work.
We need to act today. It is my hope that my colleagues will join us this afternoon in voting for the motion to proceed to the Rebuild America Jobs Act, a critical piece of which is this smart infrastructure bank.
THE NOMINATION OF RICHARD ANDREWS
Mr. President, I move now briefly to support the nomination of Richard Andrews, who has been nominated to be U.S. district court judge for the District of Delaware. Rich Andrews is an exceptional lawyer, a dedicated public servant, and a good man. When the Senate confirms his nomination, hopefully later today, Rich will become the fourth active judge serving in the District of Delaware. This will mark the very first time in 5 years that this very busy court will operate without a vacancy. For a small district such as Delaware, albeit one with such a specialized and complex caseload, even a single vacancy places a significant burden on the court.
Mr. Andrews' nomination has been pending 177 days, and while I am grateful for the consent agreement that I hope will allow his nomination to be considered today, I remain concerned that such a noncontroversial and qualified nominee as Rich could take nearly half a year to reach floor consideration. The judicial vacancy rate hovers near 10 percent, we have 31 judicial emergencies, and it is my hope that this body will continue to move expeditiously to fill vacancies throughout the country.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I had a chance to chair the nominations hearing for Rich and to take part in the committee's consideration of his nomination. I have reviewed his record, listened to his testimony, met with him personally, conferred with my senior Senator, Mr. Carper, and as a result of all this, I assure my colleagues I have every confidence that Rich is a qualified judge and will serve Delaware and this Nation brilliantly.
During his 30 years of service for Delaware so far, he has established himself as a talented, dedicated, and humble public servant who possesses the strongest work ethic and the highest integrity and intellect.
He began his service to our State when, after graduating from Berkeley Law School, he came to Delaware as a law clerk for Chief Judge Collin Seitz of the Third Circuit. Luckily for us, he never left.
After completing his clerkship, he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Delaware, where he spent the next 24 years, much of it serving as the first assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the Criminal Division. During this time, he has tried, in that role, more than 50 felony jury cases and argued 17 cases before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2007, he has served as State prosecutor for the Delaware Department of Justice and leads more than 70 deputy attorneys general in the Criminal Division and has overseen tens of thousands of prosecutions each year. I am confident that his experiences as a prosecutor have given him the knowledge, skills, and temperament to join and serve ably on the District of Delaware Federal bench.
When I chaired his nomination hearing, I was impressed by his professionalism, intelligence, and demeanor. Rich enjoys broad bipartisan support, having been reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I urge all my colleagues to join Senator Carper and me in supporting Mr. Andrews so he will have the opportunity to continue his selfless service to the people of our State and our Nation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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