WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today took to the Senate floor to discuss his support for the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure package.
In his remarks, Wicker expressed the bill was “far from perfect,” but that it ultimately includes many provisions that will benefit the state of Mississippi.
“At the end of the day, I believe this package will do a great service for the United States and for my state of Mississippi. Republicans and Democrats agree that roads, bridges, broadband, ports, and rail are the building blocks of a healthy economy. This bill makes historic down payments on those core priorities,” Wicker said.
In his remarks, Wicker noted the billions of dollars in investments that are expected to be made in Mississippi if the infrastructure package is signed into law. The package includes: $3.3 billion for Mississippi’s roads and highways, $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, a minimum of $100 million for broadband infrastructure, $283 million for water revolving funds, and billions for Army Corps of Engineers projects and port and rail improvements nationwide.
The legislation also includes several proposals that Wicker directly advocated for, including provisions which authorize and expand the Minority Business Development Agency and expand the eligible uses for inland flood mitigation funds provided in the infrastructure package.
In his closing to his colleagues, Wicker told the story of his father, retired circuit judge and former state Senator Fred Wicker, who in 1968 had advocated for the passage of a comprehensive four-lane highway program in Mississippi. The legislature debated the measure through the entire session, but adjourned before passing the legislation. It was not until 1987 – 19 years later – that the state’s four-lane highway bill passed.
“If you ask almost anyone involved in economic development efforts during the decades that followed, and even today, they will tell you that the 1987 four-lane highway bill was one of Mississippi's most significant pieces of legislation for job creation,” Wicker said.
“For this small-town boy from Mississippi, this is just as pivotal a moment. For my state's economy, today is such a moment. When will it come again? Maybe next year, maybe the next administration. Maybe 19 years. Can we afford to pass on this opportunity? We cannot afford to pass this opportunity up,” Wicker concluded.
See Wicker’s full remarks, as delivered, below:
Madam President, I rise this afternoon to announce my support for this bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
Coming to this decision has not been easy or straightforward. As the Minority Leader said recently: “I am quite confident that out of 100 United States Senators, there are 100 of us who believe this bill is imperfect.” Madam President I want to associate myself with that statement.
The bill we are now debating is far from perfect. If I were the only one with a pen, I would have made many changes.
But at the end of the day, I believe this package will do a great service for the United States of America and a great service for my state of Mississippi.
Republicans and Democrats agree that roads, bridges, broadband, ports, and rail are the building blocks of a healthy economy. This bill makes historic down payments on those core priorities.
I am pleased that this bill incorporates all of the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021, which Senator Cantwell and I cosponsored and which passed out of Commerce Committee by a vote of 25-3 with the support of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The provisions of that bill ensure that Mississippi will get a fair shake in the competitive grant programs included in this bill, which total more than $20 billion.
This bill has a number of other vitally important provisions that will benefit Mississippi.
It provides my state a lump sum of $3.3 billion for roads and highways, as well as $225 million to replace and repair bridges. We will also be able to compete for funding from another $12.5 billion in bridge grants.
Madam President, Mississippi has nearly 6,000 miles of highway in poor condition, and over a thousand bridges are also in poor condition across our state. Commute times in Mississippi are up 5.6 percent over the last decade. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Mississippi drivers on average are paying an extra $820 per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.
No one disputes that my state and other states are in desperate need of significant new funding for roads and bridges. And this legislation does that.
The historic investments in this bill mean that Mississippians can have an easier time dropping off their children at school and shorter commutes to work. First responders will also be able to reach those in need much more quickly, potentially saving lives.
Separately, Mississippi will receive $223 million for public transit, $283 million for water projects, and an estimated $100 million for airport upgrades and repairs.
Our ports and rail systems also stand to benefit. This bill authorizes $2.25 billion for U.S. ports, $5 billion for rail through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements or (CRISI) program, and $3 billion to provide safety features for grade crossings. Something that is desperately needed across this country.
This bill will also clear away obstacles for major construction projects by streamlining the federal permitting process.
The Army Corps of Engineers will get $9.5 billion, meaning Mississippi will have new funding opportunities for flood control projects, which are badly needed.
And high-need communities will be first in line for those projects, thanks to an amendment I sponsored with the senior Senators from Delaware and Oklahoma. This should benefit urban areas like the Pearl River Basin as well as rural areas throughout Mississippi, and throughout our nation, which have faced the constant threat of flooding for far too long.
In another positive provision of this bill, the Senate adopted my amendment authorizing the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) for the first time ever. It had never been authorized, Madam President. This will send new business resources to rural areas and a boost of support to historically black colleges and universities, which are economic anchors in their communities.
And I would add the good news we got last month: Mississippi will soon be home to a new MBDA center.
Madam President, I also want to mention rural broadband, which will see a tremendous boost because of this legislation.
This bill lines up $65 billion to be spent on broadband deployment, taking us one giant step toward closing the digital divide. Based on the federal formula, Mississippi will receive a minimum of $100 million from these funds.
That’s on top of the $495 million Mississippi was recently awarded through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auctions and the $275 million in COVID relief funds that we are spending on broadband infrastructure in Mississippi.
No Senator has been a stronger advocate than I have on broadband buildout. Reliable, high-speed broadband is critical to ensuring rural states are competitive for the next generation – and this bill will help us get there.
It is no secret that I have registered my concerns about the way this bill waives some of the normal processes that make for good federal rulemaking.
As written, this bill makes it so that the NTIA can choose not to receive public comment on its broadband buildout plans. And it short-circuits the judicial review section of the Administrative Procedures Act, giving stakeholders a much smaller voice in the overall buildout process.
I hope the NTIA will take care to avoid the wasteful and costly mistakes of the past and make sure these broadband dollars are spent efficiently, effectively, and with the benefit of stakeholder comment.
Madam President, I was pleased that my colleagues included language to prohibit the federal government from setting broadband rates. This would have been an unwelcome intrusion into the private market, and the inclusion of this clarifying language was absolutely critical.
The internet in this country has been able to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic in large part because of our light-touch regulatory framework, which has encouraged more broadband buildout. This stands in stark contrast to our European friends who suffered severe slowdowns because of their burdensome internet rules.
One pivotal moment of this debate on this subject involved a colloquy that I shared last week with the senior Senator from New Hampshire, Senator Shaheen, the chief negotiator for this title. Senator Shaheen confirmed on the Senate floor that preventing regulation of internet rates was the express intent of the language in the broadband title.
Without this specific language in the legislation and the assurance made during that colloquy, I would not have been able to support this bill on final passage.
Some have expressed concern about the cost of this bill. Offsets have been provided, and the negotiators provided pay-fors for every expenditure.
But admittedly, the Congressional Budget Office did not agree with all the pay-fors – but Republicans for decades have advocated more use of dynamic scoring. And I wish CBO had used dynamic scoring in this instance. It is unfortunate that the CBO refuses to acknowledge that economic growth will result in higher revenues.
It should be clear to us all that the investments in this legislation will generate a stronger economy and larger sums of revenue. Experts have predicted these investments will make it less costly for businesses to operate and will lead to greater productivity.
For example, the widely used Penn Wharton Budget Model has projected this bill will increase hourly wages by 0.1 percent and reduce government debt by 0.9 percent. You heard that right – the Penn Wharton model says this bill will reduce government debt. A prediction not to be taken lightly.
Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, a respected conservative think tank, has said these investments in hard infrastructure will ease the pressure on inflation rather than contributing to inflation.
In other words, this investment in infrastructure will result in tremendous economic growth – growth that some of our budgetary bean-counters are not willing to account for.
Now, it is important to make this point emphatically: this legislation involving hard infrastructure – which I support – stands in sharp contrast to the Democrats’ forthcoming bill, which will certainly not gain even one Republican vote, and which the 50 Democrats in the Senate and a slim majority in the House hope to pass with only Democrat votes.
They say their bill will be Infrastructure Part Two, but a momentary glance at what they are proposing should dispel any notion that their bill counts as real infrastructure.
I will say it clearly and for the record: My Democratic colleagues are teeing up for next week a reckless tax-and-spending spree that our country does not need, and cannot afford.
The Democrats’ reckless budget bill will amount to a staggering $3.5 trillion. It threatens the successful Trump tax cuts. It includes crushing tax hikes on job creators, hundreds of billions in wasteful giveaways to green corporations, and a slew of spending that would heat up inflation, jeopardize our recovery, and drive our nation deeper into debt.
Democrats are even considering an amnesty measure – in the midst of the worst border crisis in recent memory – without giving a thought to improving border security, which would count as real infrastructure.
But that is next week’s bill, not this one. This bill – the bipartisan bill that I am supporting tonight – is the real infrastructure deal that America needs.
As the Senate moves forward with this important debate, and as I consider the infrastructure needs of my own state of Mississippi, it is instructive for me to recall the history of infrastructure programs I have personally seen at the state level.
In 1968, my father was a first-term State Senator from Pontotoc, Union, and Benton Counties in North Mississippi. One of his major goals that year was the passage of a comprehensive four-lane highway program. That was 1968.
The legislature met from January until September of that year, with vote after vote on the highway bill, before finally adjourning in frustration with the hope of trying again next year.
Sadly, the next year came and went, as did others, with no meaningful highway legislation. It was not until 1987, a full nineteen years later – when I myself was a candidate for the State Senate – that a major four-lane highway bill was finally enacted. And only then by the tiniest of margins in a vote to override a gubernatorial veto.
If you ask almost anyone involved in economic development efforts during the decades that followed, and even today, they will tell you that the 1987 four-lane highway bill was one of Mississippi's most significant pieces of legislation for job creation.
For this small-town boy from Mississippi, this is just as pivotal a moment. For my state's economy, today is such a moment. When will it come again? Maybe next year, maybe the next administration. Maybe 19 years. Can we afford to pass on this opportunity? We cannot afford to pass this opportunity up.
I will be voting “Yes” on this legislation.