HELENA — Calling Monday “one of the best days I’ve have in Washington, D.C.,” Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester joined President Biden at the White House for the signing of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which he said should translate into thousands of jobs and a generational investment that will boost the economy for years to come.
“If we don’t make basic investments in infrastructure and education, we can’t compete,” he told Montana reporters about four hours before the signing. “So, this investment is very, very important and it’s very, very gratifying.”
Money to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, airports, water systems, the electricity grid and railroads and rail service should start hitting the ground next spring, Tester said, distributed through existing programs.
He also said the bill has enough money to expand access to high-speed Internet into “every corner of the state” – in a state rated as one of the worst for such access.
Tester was part of a bipartisan group of senators who hammered out details of the proposal this summer. The bill passed the Senate in August on a 69-30 vote, but was held up in the U.S. House by Democratic in-fighting until Nov. 5, when it passed 228-206.
He joined President Biden and others on the White House lawn for the bill-signing late Monday afternoon.
The two Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation – Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale – voted against the bill.
They argued the measure contained only a small amount of money for traditional infrastructure, would increase the federal deficit and would contribute to rising inflation.
Tester and other supporters said the bill is paid for over the next decade, and that a Congressional Budget Office report that said it contributes $256 billion to the deficit ignores several streams of income and offsetting costs that will cover the costs.
Independent fact-checkers also have said claims that only a small portion of the bill pays for actual infrastructure — roads, bridge, broadband, etc. — are false.
Tester said Monday he believes the investment in infrastructure will actually reduce costs for businesses and citizens and have an opposite effect on inflation.
“I think when you’re talking about infrastructure, you’re talking about good roads, good bridges, Internet capacity, a water system – these all will lower costs for businesses,” he said. “And I anticipate these lower costs will be transferred to the consumer.”
The bill should also create thousands of good-paying jobs in construction, and all of the iron, construction material and steel needed for projects must come from American factories, Tester said.
President Biden also signed an executive order Monday to create a task force to coordinate the bill’s infrastructure spending and “drive implementation of infrastructure investments across all levels of government.”
As the infrastructure bill may create jobs and more demand for workers, it’s important for the country to address critical shortages in affordable housing and affordable, accessible day care, Tester added.
Programs to address those problems will be in the next big Democratic bill, known as Biden’s Build Back Better program – yet Tester said that bill, which is in the House, still needs plenty of work before he knows whether he’ll be supporting it.
“There is some real opportunity here to do some good things,” he said. “But as I said earlier -- this bill is a long ways away from being ready for prime time.”