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Infrastructure bill benefits Montana

by Daily Inter Lake
| August 15, 2021 12:00 AM

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was approved in the U.S. Senate last week with a resounding 69-30 vote — a landslide win in today’s fractured political climate.

The bill’s $1 trillion price tag is a sizable drop from the initial $2.3 trillion vision floated by President Biden, thanks to a contingent of five Democratic and five Republican senators who led negotiations in an all-out effort to whittle down the deal’s scope and prove that government can still “deliver.”

Not surprisingly, the edges of the political spectrum weren’t satisfied with the final proposal — staunch progressives say it doesn’t go far enough, while conservatives balk at the cost and funding mechanisms. Thankfully, though, there were enough lawmakers in the middle to finally move forward with this long-debated spending package.

“We all knew that, quite honestly, that the world was watching,” commented Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, who was among the group of centrists who brokered the agreement.

Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia poetically described the show of compromise as “a little balm to the psychic soul of the country.”

Politics aside, Montana and the West in general stand to benefit a great deal from this package.

In the deal, Montana would receive about $2.82 billion for highways, $225 million to fix aging bridges, and $144 million for airport upgrades, among other transportation needs.

Rural Montana should benefit from $42.45 billion to expand broadband in areas across the U.S. lacking internet service. According to one federal analysis, about 14 million Americans don’t have access to broadband at the speeds necessary to work and study online, creating what is often referred to as the “digital divide.”

The package also includes about $3.37 billion to fund projects that reduce wildfire risk across the West, including $500 million toward forest management initiatives. It would also boost the pay of federal firefighters.

There is more than $8 billion for water initiatives in the West, including $100 million for rehabilitating the Milk River Project in Montana.

No tax hikes are proposed, as the measure is to be funded by repurposing other money, including some Covid aid. The White House is projecting that the investments will add, on average, about 2 million jobs per year over the coming decade.

The bill now moves to the U.S. House where it will undoubtedly face challenges from progressives who want to attach it to a separate $3.5 trillion spending package that lacks bipartisan support.

Speaker Pelosi and other liberal Democrats would be wise to heed Sen. Tester’s warning: “The world is watching.”

Congress can’t let this rare instance of compromise crumble like the bridges and roads in desperate need of repair. Instead, our lawmakers need to reach for the middle and show that bipartisanship still works for the betterment of the whole country.