Colorado's Democratic delegation cheers passage of infrastructure bill amid GOP scowls

The Democrats who represent Colorado in Washington hailed passage of the massive, bipartisan infrastructure bill late Friday, celebrating billions in spending on improvements across the state and declaring a long-awaited victory on the party's domestic agenda.

The state's Republican members of Congress, meanwhile, lamented what one called a "bloated" bill that amounts to a "progressive wish list," while another attacked the GOP lawmakers who supported the bill as "fake republicans" and vowed to hold them to account.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the $1.1 trillion package of transportation and utility projects 228-206, with 13 moderate Republicans supporting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and six of the most left-leaning Democrats voting against it. Colorado's House delegation split on party lines, with the four Democrats voting in favor and the three Republicans in opposition.

The House vote sends the bill to President Joe Biden, who said Saturday morning that he will sign it into law next week.

The Senate approved the the bill in early August with 19 Republicans joining every Democrat supporting the package, which was negotiated by a group of 22 centrist senators that included U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Democrat.

“This is American democracy at its best," Hickenlooper said late Friday in a statement. "We’ve just passed the biggest climate bill in U.S. history and the biggest infrastructure investment since the New Deal. While there’s more to come, today America showed we can work together.”

Like his fellow Democrats, Hickenlooper touted elements of the legislation he authored, including a provision to promote less-expensive rates for electric vehicle charging and a requirement that a federal agency return the $29 million deposit the Regional Transportation District put down years ago on a federal loan.

According to summaries compiled by the state's Democratic lawmakers, the bill's spending on Colorado projects includes $3.7 billion on highways, $225 million on bridges, $916 million on public transportation, $688 to replace lead pipes in the state's water systems, $432 million on airports, $100 million on broadband and $57 million on electric vehicle charging networks.

Colorado's senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, applauded the House vote as a step closer to "a transformational investment in our infrastructure."

“For years, Washington has talked about coming together to rebuild America," Bennet said in a statement. "This bill finally achieves it with a historic, bipartisan investment in the roads, bridges, airports, water systems, and high-speed broadband America needs to compete in the 21st century."

He added a call for Congress to pass the even larger budget reconciliation package — the Build Back Better Act, sometimes dubbed the "human infrastructure" bill — that has been under negotiation for months. The House passed a rule late Friday setting up a vote later this month on the legislation.

Bennet pointed to a dozen provisions in the infrastructure bill that either incorporated legislation he originally sponsored or that aligned with bills he's introduced. Among them: measures to spend billions building out high-speed internet, fund water infrastructure on tribal lands and across the West, help utilities and industrial operations capture carbon emissions and protect the power grid from cyber attacks.

Across the aisle, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, blasted the bill for adding what he says is $400 billion to the deficit while spending less than half its price tag on "traditional infrastructure" and pouring the rest into what he termed "Green New Deal initiatives."

“Today’s 'infrastructure' bill is bloated and aims to make a variety of progressive wish list items part of federal policy," Lamborn said in a statement.

"While it is true that we to need to address many forms of infrastructure, such as replacing aging roads and bridges, strengthening our electrical grid, and expanding access to broadband, I could not support legislation that spends so little on traditional infrastructure. Instead, this legislation focuses primarily on pushing the Green New Deal and increasing the size and scope of the federal government. The Democrats failed to address the issues that matter to the American people, such as the southern border crisis, the growing supply chain shortages, or the labor crisis. After a month full of inactivity, it is apparent, the Democratic caucus is truly in disarray.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, the Lafayette Democrat who played a central role brokering the deal that set up Friday's votes, cheered the bill's inclusion of climate-related measures he's pushed, including spending on wildfire prevention, forest restoration, upgrades to the power grid and funding for rural schools.

“As communities across Colorado face more frequent and more severe climate-related weather events — such as the record-setting wildfires and terrible flash flooding we’ve witnessed this past year — it’s more clear than ever that we need to make major investments in our lands, our forests and our communities,” Neguse said in a statement. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which passed the House last night, we are delivering on several of these key priorities for Colorado.”

Right after the vote, Neguse tweeted: "Best way to end infrastructure week? Just voted for the biggest infrastructure bill in our country's modern history!"

Silt Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert was posting photos of herself at former President Donald Trump's resort in Florida all day and was the only Coloradan to vote on the bill by proxy. In a late-night tweet, she blamed "RINOs" — slang for "Republicans in name only" — for helping Democrats pass legislation she called "wasteful" and "garbage."

"Time to name names and hold these fake republicans accountable," she added. Moments later, Boebert retweeted a message from her conservative colleague U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona: "Republicans who voted for the Democrats' socialist spending bill are the very reason why Democrats don't trust Congress."

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican and former chairman of the Colorado GOP, didn't issue a statement after the bill passed but posted derisive tweets in the hours ahead of the vote.

"House Republicans who vote for [the bipartisan infrastructure bill] today are helping Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden ram through their massive socialist reconciliation package. There is no justification to vote yes, Republicans should reject this!" Buck tweeted, later adding: "If House Democrats ram through $4 trillion of socialist policies tonight, the RED wave is coming!"

Centennial Democrat U.S. Rep. Jason Crow said in a statement that he supported the bill because the country can't compete without modern infrastructure.

“For too long, not investing in American infrastructure and the American people has allowed us to fall behind," Crow said. "This historic legislation makes those critical investments to improve life for millions of Coloradans, create a generation of good-paying jobs, stoke economic growth and position the United States to lead in the 21st century and beyond.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, highlighted the bill's inclusion of a measure he sponsored to fund construction of a new U.S. Geological Survey building in Colorado and enumerated billions in spending over the next five years on Colorado projects.

“This infrastructure package will provide immediate and significant investment in local communities in Colorado through reauthorization of our surface transportation programs supporting roads, bridges and transit and prioritize other infrastructure needs that are long overdue such as broadband access, improved reliability of our water infrastructure and an investment in clean energy transportation initiatives,” said Perlmutter in a statement.

Denver Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette linked the infrastructure bill with the pending social spending package, saying the two bills "represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally transform our nation for the better.”

Said DeGette: “They will not only lay the foundation for us to grow our economy and increase our competitiveness, but they will also create millions of good-paying jobs in the process. They will make health care and child care more affordable for millions of hardworking families. They will make housing and higher education more accessible, and they will be the largest investment we have ever made to lower our greenhouse emissions and help tackle the climate crisis.”

The House agreed late Friday to vote on the second bill — with spending pegged at $1.75 trillion, according to the latest estimates — no later than Nov. 19. The bill has yet to be heard in the evenly divided Senate, where all Republicans have said they're opposed to it and two moderate Democrats, West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, have been driving negotiations.

Content originally published by Colorado Politics on November 6, 2021.

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