Democrats in Oregon delegation applaud infrastructure passage, Bentz votes no

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, says the federal infrastructure package will have profound impacts in Oregon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Much of Oregon’s Congressional delegation sees nothing but good news for the state in the passage of the federal infrastructure legislation.

The U.S. House on Friday passed the $1.2 trillion package to fix roads, airports, railways and broadband across the country.

The state’s four Democrat representatives voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici in the 1st Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer in the 3rd Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio in the 4th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader in the 5th Congressional District.

Oregon’s lone Republican in Congress, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz in the 2nd Congressional District, voted against the package and by Saturday night he was the only member of the Oregon’s Congressional delegation to stay publicly silent about the vote. His communications staff didn’t respond to telephone or email messages Saturday seeking comment about why he opposed legislation that likely will put millions of dollars into his district.

But political joy was the message of the day for the rest of the delegation, including Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. They voted for the package when it passed the Senate in August.

They all highlighted billions destined for Oregon for roads, bridges, public transportation, airport improvements and millions set aside to bring broadband service to more than 100,000 Oregonians.

About half the spending is new, the other half previously budgeted amounts. The cost will be covered by diverting billions in funds never spent on pandemic programs, reinstating a Superfund tax on certain chemicals, and new regulation of cryptocurrency.

DeFazio, sponsor of the original legislation, said in a statement that it addresses “long overdue investments in our nation’s infrastructure.”

The package “will make badly-needed improvements to our rail systems, bridges and highways, transit, water, and broadband infrastructure, as well as our ports and airports—investments I have championed for years,” he said.

He said the package is a “down payment on addressing the climate crisis head on by reducing carbon pollution from the transportation sector, as well as upgrading our port infrastructure to help alleviate the current supply chain crisis.”

Bonamici said the package is “a significant commitment to reaching a more connected and resilient nation.”

“It will help Oregonians and families across the country by repairing and improving our roads and bridges, creating new jobs, expanding access to broadband, and so much more,” she said in a statement.

Blumenauer described the legislation as “an unprecedented investment.”

He took credit for authoring provisions “to help Oregon improve our public transit systems, enhance the safety of our streets, get lead pipes out of our schools, protect us from wildfires, and expand access to broadband ­– all while making polluters pay to clean up their toxic legacies.”

“We are proving that America can afford what our families need,” he said in a statement.

Schrader said the legislation provided “once-in-a-century investments.”

“Passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill means Oregon families and businesses will receive the fuel they need to further recover from the pandemic and rebuild our economy stronger than before. It is an honor to deliver this win to our state and our country,” he said in a statement.

In an interview Saturday with the Capital Chronicle, Schrader said the legislation would be profound for Oregon.

“It’s pretty huge and it’s pretty amazing,” he said.

Merkley said in a statement “Fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband, rebuilding water systems, and new transit are crucial to creating good jobs. It’s great to see the infrastructure bill pass.”

“I’ve said for a long time, you can’t have a big-league economy with little league infrastructure,” Wyden said in a statement. “Oregon and the American West will finally get the significant investments needed to deal with catastrophic wildfires and severe drought, build back hard-hit rural economies, improve access to public transit and make sure clean drinking water is a right for everyone.”

Several in the Oregon delegation noted that the massive package passed on bipartisan votes in both chambers. The Senate vote was 69 to 30, with 19 Republican votes that included U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

In the House, the vote was 228 to 206, including 13 Republicans voting for it.

Those votes were notable, Schrader said, because those Republicans “hung in there while getting the wholly hell beat out of them.”

He said several of those Republicans were part of the Problem Solver Caucus in the House – a cause with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats that Schrader helped found. Eight of the votes for the package came from Republicans who are part of the caucus, which was formed to overcome the deeply partisan divides in Congress.

As for the package, Schrader said the impact in Oregon will be felt throughout the state, particularly in rural communities. Smaller towns and counties now will have a place to go for money for fixing roads and community water systems.

He said the federal legislation represents the “biggest investment ever” in the state in public transit and water infrastructure.

The impact likely will be seen as soon as next year’s construction seasons.

“That’s the good news-bad news because there will be more construction on the highways, which means delays,” Schrader said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.