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Mr. BEGICH. Madam President, I would like to thank my colleagues for coming to the floor and especially thank Senator Whitehouse for organizing all of us to come here to speak on an issue that is really the core of what we do here: to figure out how to build infrastructure for this country so our private sector can have the infrastructure to work from and play off of. But let's be very blunt and very honest about what is happening. This Transportation reauthorization bill passed this body with 74 votes. It was a bipartisan effort, hard fought, with incredible debate, encompassing many different issues. Now it sits in a conference committee with House Members, led by the Republican majority over there, not wanting to move forward.
Let's be very blunt about this. Not only do we have that bill over there, we have the VAWA bill, the FDA bill, the postal reform bill, and they are all just piling up over in the House. People wonder why the economy has been struggling this last month. Well, all the business that we should be doing and that we are doing here on the Senate side--we are passing stuff--is all piling up over there on the House side.
Actually, I did what we were calling ``Begich Minutes,'' give or take a few seconds. I went to the middle of the Capitol and described this incident of where we pass a bill, and then I physically pointed to the House side to show where the bill is now stalled. We have a small group within the Republican majority over there that is holding the Speaker hostage, literally, because they want to cut the Transportation bill by over one-third, which would devastate the infrastructure of this country.
Let me say from my own experience--and I know Senator Whitehouse has heard this, and others have as well--as a former mayor, I was in charge of the metropolitan planning organization for our community of Anchorage, which maintained at that time approximately 45 or 48 percent of the population of the State. We were in charge of managing the road money. Every time Congress delayed their action or were ineffective in getting their work done, as a mayor, I had to put projects off, stall projects, and hold contracts and tell contractors they couldn't get to work. That created uncertainty, which at the end of the day does one thing: It costs more money. And the people who pay for that are the taxpayers.
So they sit over there in the House. I saw a comment that they want to do another extension. Well, we have had nine extensions. For people who don't know what extensions are, it is where the Congress says: Well, we will extend this bill for another week, another 2 weeks, another month. But these extensions create more uncertainty and add more cost. Every time you hear the word ``extension'' from the other side, that just means you--the taxpayers of this country--are paying more in taxes. That is what that means, pure and simple. ``Extension'' means you pay more for a project that should have been on the board and moving forward.
We have a bipartisan bill, with 74 Democrats and Republicans on the Senate side having voted for it. It is now lingering in conference.
We are now in the midst of the construction season. In Alaska--and I know my colleague from Minnesota, who has joined us, will know about this--the construction season is short. We need to have contracts let in early spring in order to construct in the summer and be completed by September or October because the asphalt plants close. When the asphalt plants close, you can't put asphalt on the streets. It is very simple. We have a very limited time. So the contracting community is frustrated and angry because they do not get the certainty they need to hire the people. They can't get them to work.
So I plead with the folks on the other side, the extreme folks in the Republican majority over there who are holding the Speaker hostage on this issue, let's do what is right for America. Let's make sure these jobs, these 3 million jobs that could be retained and added, move forward. In an economy where every job makes a difference, we are talking here about 3 million jobs. Let's move this forward. Let's quit the politics.
What is amazing about this--and I heard Senator Whitehouse say this more than once--if the Speaker of the House would just allow the Senate bill to go to the floor for a vote, I can guarantee what will happen: Democrats and a group of Republicans will support that bill and pass it. But that is not the issue. We have a very small subset of the majority of the Republicans over in the House who have told the majority leader he is not moving anything--nothing, zero--because they are not betting on America like we are. We bet on America. We are betting on the right things. What they want to do is to cripple this country for their own political gamesmanship.
I have to say--and I would bet every one of my colleagues here would say the same thing--that when I go back home to Alaska, I hear how fed up people are with this. They are frustrated by the inability of Congress to do its work. And I have told my folks back in Alaska that the Senate is doing its work. We are passing bipartisan bills. But they get jammed up by a small group of extreme Republican tea party folks who believe the best way to solve problems is to do nothing and to let this economy falter.
So I hope Members will come to their senses over there. I can say that my
Congressman, the Republican from Alaska, is working hard to get this bill passed. He is on the conference committee. He is one of the Republicans who would vote with Democrats to get things done on this Transportation bill. Why? Because he likes building things. I like building things. But there are some other folks over there who have no interest in helping to build this country and make it a better place.
So, again, I yield my time. I hope folks on the other side in that extreme group will get some sense knocked into them. Maybe the American people will do it. I hope so.
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