Hogan convenes governors, centrist members of Congress to talk infrastructure
By Erin Cox,
Jonathan Ernst Reuters
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) convened governors, U.S. senators and members of Congress from both political parties in Annapolis this week for a two-day summit on finding bipartisan consensus in President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan.
The 27 political leaders didn’t reach a formal accord, but the event underscored Hogan’s efforts to forge a national brand as a bipartisan problem solver as he weighs a potential 2024 presidential bid.
During a news conference that followed the summit, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) took
center stage to describe a rare and productive conversation about what governors need in their states and key areas of agreement among Republicans and Democrats attendees of the event.
“We don’t always get together that often. . . . We needed to be doing more of this,” said Manchin, a centrist who will play a pivotal role if Democrats need to push the infrastructure bill through the evenly split Senate on a party-line vote.
Manchin said the group wants Congress to focus first on what he called “conventional infrastructure” before it addresses the more expansive plan Biden proposed.
“That’s what we’ve come to an agreement on, more than anything else, today,” he said. “Why don’t you take the greatest need that you have and do . . . something you all agree on?”
The crowd of primarily centrist lawmakers Hogan assembled isn’t large enough to sway debate in Congress. Nonetheless, they took their self-assigned, consensus-building task seriously, with a packed agenda.
The group heard, for example, presentations from Larry Summers, an economic adviser during the Obama administration, and DJ Gribbin, infrastructure czar during the Trump administration, on how much the country should spend to create a meaningful infrastructure program.
Biden has likened his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal to the space race of the 1960s, proposing enormous investments not only in the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and other traditional physical infrastructure, but also in what the White House has called “human infrastructure” of home-care workers.
The plan would upgrade a wide range of public services to improve health and combat climate change, from delivering a high-speed broadband signal to every home within the next decade and establishing a national network of charging stations for electric cars to replacing every lead pipe in the country. It modernizes the electric power grid, upgrades schools and invests in research and development projects, among many other initiatives.
While some Democrats say the plans do not go far enough to fix long-ignored infrastructure problems, Republicans charged that the administration’s definition of infrastructure is too broad and its proposals too costly. A group of Senate Republicans this week floated a scaled-back $568 billion plan they say focuses on “core infrastructure,” including transportation, water systems and Internet access.
Federal leaders are also divided on how to pay for the plan. While the Biden administration suggested an increased corporate tax rate, ending tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies and other measures, Republicans have pitched higher fees on drivers.
Biden has emphasized plans to seek bipartisan agreement but also has suggested Democrats may need to pass the package on a party-line vote, with Vice President Harris acting as a tiebreaker in the Senate.
Those gathered in Annapolis Friday included four governors and seven senators, two of them Democrats, and 16 members of the House, half from each party. They said they reached an agreement that any infrastructure plan should focus first on physical assets and broadband, be passed on a bipartisan basis and include a concrete way to pay for it.
However, the group did not suggest which assets should be built nor how the effort should be funded, saying the purpose of the summit was to establish guiding principles.
“It’s an important first step,” Hogan said.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), one of the three Democratic governors in attendance, called it a “refreshing” experience for governors to convey to members of Congress their top infrastructure needs and opinions on the best ways to pay for it.
“This is not a cookie-cutter situation. One size does not fit all,” he said.
Added Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.): “Just spending time with each other and hearing each other think is very helpful.”
The attendees included Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), as well as members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, which released its own report earlier Friday on how to address infrastructure needs.
Hogan, who briefly considered challenging President Donald Trump in the 2020 GOP primary, has emphasized the need for a national infrastructure boost since he took over as chairman of the National Governors Association in 2019. Infrastructure investment was supposed to be the signature issue of his one-year term leading the organization, but the coronavirus pandemic upended those plans.
The NGA nevertheless encouraged first the Trump administration and then the Biden administration to develop a significant infrastructure plan, and Hogan has testified to Congress about alternative ways to pay for infrastructure projects, highlighting the Purple Line project to connect Metro lines in the D.C. suburbs.