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Public Statements

Protecting Medicare and Rebuilding our Infrastructure

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HIGGINS. I thank the gentlemen from California and from Pennsylvania for their leadership on these issues--jobs and protecting Medicare long into the future.

As we know, there's a debate going on here about the fiscal cliff. I think the American people are looking for leadership in Washington. They want a plan, and I think they are willing to endure some pain that will be in the form of spending cuts and perhaps some increased revenues, but the American people also want a plan that is going to be aspirational.

The fact of the matter is our infrastructure in this Nation is falling apart. According to the American Society for Civil Engineers, they give us a D grade for the quality of our infrastructure. They tell us that $2.2 trillion is needed just to bring our current infrastructure to a state of good repair. That's not even taking into consideration new infrastructure needs that we're seeing in New York and New Jersey as a result of the storms there.

Infrastructure investment is also a job creator, a creator of American jobs. When you invest in infrastructure, you're buying labor from American businesses. When you invest in infrastructure, you're buying equipment from American businesses.

Now, with public infrastructure, it's as old as Lincoln. He called it land improvements. He meant ports and railroads at the time. Public infrastructure is always the public's responsibility. So the question is never whether or not you're going to do it--you have to do it--the question is when does it make most sense.

I would submit to you that it makes most sense today. Why? Because money is as cheap as it's ever going to be. Every municipal government throughout this country borrows money by issuing debt--bonds--to underwrite the cost of building new infrastructure.

We could be borrowing money today for about 1 percent. Labor is cheap, equipment is cheap because both are idling. And we clearly need the infrastructure investment.

Final thought on this: Transportation for America, a not-for-profit organization, identifies 69,000 structurally deficient bridges in this Nation. There's over 2,000 structurally deficient bridges in my State of New York; and in western New York, we have 99 structurally deficient bridges.

Every second of every day, seven cars drive on a bridge that is structurally deficient. We saw a bridge collapse in New York State in 1987, the Harley Creek Bridge, loss of life and significant injury. We saw it again, subsequent to that, in Minneapolis.

How many more bridges have to collapse before we address this need?

We're going to spend less than $53 billion rebuilding the roads and bridges of America next year, less than $53 billion. It's weak and it's pathetically weak when you consider that we just spent $89 billion rebuilding the roads and bridges of Afghanistan, and we just spent $67 billion rebuilding the roads and bridges of Iraq.

Work needs to be done, and Americans need the work. With that, I yield back to my friend from California.

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Mr. HIGGINS. Thank you.

My colleague from New York is obviously very familiar with all of the issues that we're confronted with, but we also recognize that our Governor had the presence of mind in putting the package together for Federal relief for reimbursement to seek infrastructure money to rebuild the infrastructure that was destroyed in a way that would mitigate or reduce the damage in a future storm, because here's what we know with global warming. Storms are becoming much more severe. And whether it's New Orleans or whether it's Queens, New York, we are going to see another storm.

It also underscores the need for infrastructure investment to mitigate the damage, because by making that upfront investment--those mitigation factors--it will reduce the amount of damage when the next storm hits if, in fact, our Nation can meet that challenge of rebuilding our infrastructure in a way that it ought to be built.

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Mr. HIGGINS. I thank the gentleman.

At the outset, my colleague from California, a great leader on this issue, had said that it was 12 years ago when we had a budgetary surplus of $258 billion. How was that created? It was created by having created 22 million private sector jobs in the previous 8 years, telling us that the best tax policy is bringing back lost taxpayers to productivity so that they're contributing to the Federal Treasury. That allows us to make the investments into our economy and, as my colleague from New York said, to nation-build right here at home.

One thing that historically here Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on is infrastructure investment. I think the need is extraordinarily great right now, and we should do an infrastructure bill that is robust and aspirational in addressing the infrastructure needs and the decaying state of our infrastructure as soon as possible.

A final thought on this. There's a report out of the State of Nevada that says if you defer infrastructure repair for 2 years, you increase the cost of making that repair by a factor of five. So a $5 million bridge repair that could be done today, 2 years from now will cost you $25 million. A $1 million road repair today will cost you $5 million 2 years from now. So we need to get to work, and much work needs to be done.

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