Wyden: Public works spending should be part of next pandemic aid plan
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he is for adding federal money for public works projects to stimulate a national economy in free fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Oregon Democrat said the greatest political leverage on a Republican president and Republican majority in the Senate will have to come from the Democratic majority in the House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"I am all in and I hope Nancy Pelosi will jump-start this," Wyden said Wednesday, April 15, during a conference call with the Westside Economic Alliance, a business-advocacy group serving primarily Washington County. "The president at one point said he wanted to do it. But we haven't heard much back."
Wyden's reference was to a general overture on infrastructure financing by President Donald Trump, who has said publicly he would like to resume some semblance of public life and business activity by May 1. Trump said he will talk Thursday with state governors, many of whom say they will set their own timetables for emerging from the pandemic.
Wyden is the top Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee.
Infrastructure financing plans have been offered by Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and Peter DeFazio of Springfield, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Some economists say the United States is heading into a recession anyway with consumer demand down in many sectors.
The Trump administration has asked Congress for $250 billion more for the Small Business Administration to offer aid to businesses of fewer than 500 workers. Republicans sought a no-strings-attached plan, but Democrats rejected that on a Senate vote April 9. Democrats are seeking to add aid to hospitals and state and local governments.
Wyden said that even if the small-business aid is eventually approved without add-ons, there will be another opportunity to add spending to the $2 trillion plan Congress approved at the end of March.
Wyden responded to a question during the conference call by Stephen Roberts, director of the Washington County Land Use and Transportation Department, who said the money could advance public works projects ready for construction.
Wyden had a hand in the $787 billion economic aid plan Congress approved in 2009 during the Great Recession. His Build America Bonds raised a total of more than $181 billion in bonds — about $1 billion issued in Oregon — for public works projects between February 2009 and December 2010. The program paid part of interest costs, resulting in $20 billion in savings for state and local governments, and offered tax credits that bondholders could use to reduce taxes owed.
Some said the 2009 plan should have proposed more in direct federal spending for public works projects, given the depth of that recession.
In an interview last week, Wyden said Trump would have found bipartisan support if the newly elected president had advanced public works financing, rather than tax cuts, as Trump's top priority in 2017. He said he and Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who then led the Finance Committee, told Trump the votes were there to spend part of the "repatriated" money that corporations returned to the United States after Congress cut corporate tax rates. The tax cuts passed both chambers without a single Democrat in favor.
"Democrats have long been in favor of infrastructure spending," Wyden said. "I thought it was malpractice by the Trump administration not to make infrastructure its first bill of 2017."
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