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Tester, panel of senators reach agreement on $1.2T infrastructure package

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana

Sen. Jon Tester on Thursday said a bipartisan group of senators met with President Joe Biden earlier in the day and came to agreement after weeks of negotiation on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, one that provides funding for everything from roads and bridges to airports and broadband.

While the details on distribution must be resolved, Tester called it a landmark package that includes $579 billion in new spending that will reshape a nation that’s been living off infrastructure now generations old.

“This bill is a once-in-a-century investment in America’s infrastructure,” Tester said. “It’ll be one of the most impactful, non-emergency bills in our nation’s history. It will provide significant investment in Montana’s roads, bridges, airports and water infrastructure.”

Tester was a member of a bipartisan group of 21 senators who reached Thursday’s compromise that ends a weeks-long stalemate over costs and funding.

The deal won’t raise any taxes and will be paid for with unused unemployment insurance from the CARES Act, revenue from the IRS tax gap and some other sources, Tester said.

“Negotiations like this are always difficult. Like every compromise, neither side got everything they wanted,” Tester said. “But Democrats and Republicans were able to set aside our differences and work together to negotiate a solid framework that will make critical investments in rural America while creating good paying jobs.”

The funding will be distributed using existing infrastructure, such as the FAA for revenue allocated to airports. The same goes for public transit, passenger rail and funding dedicated to roads and bridges, which will come through the Montana Department of Transportation.

Tester said municipalities will also be able to borrow money long-term at a low interest rate. That could help boost costly projects at the local level and make them more affordable.

“It’s not going to work any different than any other appropriations,” Tester said. “It’s using the existing infrastructure. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”

The package also provides additional revenue for broadband. Montana scores low on its broadband connectivity, though Tester said the new funding will help “change the landscape” and place the state on even footing with its neighbors.

“We just came out of a pandemic that showed we’re very, very behind the curve on broadband infrastructure, whether it deals with healthcare, whether it deals with distance learning, or whether it deals with the economy and businesses having the opportunity to grow using the Internet,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, an infrastructure package was looming though negotiators couldn’t agree on what it should include, how much it should cost and how it would be paid for.

Biden initially proposed around $2.3 trillion and included such things as climate change, and child and elderly care. Republicans made a counter offer, which was equally dismissed. That led to the formation of the bipartisan group of 21 senators who crafted Thursday’s deal.

Tester said the package was strong but in the case of all negotiations, not everyone got everything they wanted.

“I wish housing was in here,” he said. “I think housing is infrastructure and I think it’s important we get more affordable workforce housing. It may be addressed later in a reconciliation bill.”