During a meeting on Feb. 5 with President Joe Biden, Rep. Peter DeFazio sat alongside other House Democratic leadership to discuss the next COVID-19 relief bill.
As the Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, DeFazio provided input on how to allocate funds for a struggling national infrastructure. During the meeting, Biden said he could “hardly wait” to begin working on infrastructure with DeFazio, according to a video from C-SPAN.
DeFazio says the $1.9 trillion bill Democrats are negotiating will address similar items to past COVID economic relief packages, including money to support unemployment benefits through September and proposed individual payments of $1,400.
“It’s a very large package, its an assistance package to mitigate the damage of COVID to the economy and individuals,” he says.
On the infrastructure side, DeFazio says he is including $8 billion for airports, including $1 billion to support contract workers, $50 billion will go to FEMA, which will provide assistance to those affected by natural disasters — including Oregonians who were affected by the September 2020 wildfires. Funds will also be distributed to Amtrak, DeFazio says.
“We are also continuing the very successful payroll support program for employees,” DeFazio says, adding that the unemployment program in Oregon is “unbelievably dysfunctional.”
He explains that there will also be a large allocation of funds to states. Oregon is one of five states that is taxing individual stimulus checks. DeFazio says the relief bill will take the states out of their economic deficits, which he says is their reasoning for keeping the tax.
The bill will also include funds for primary and secondary education and $40 billion for higher education, which he says he hopes will prevent more cuts or tuition hikes.
At the end of the day, DeFazio says the Senate’s actions cannot be predicted because the bill will also include an increase in minimum wage, since some individuals make only $7.25 an hour and are below the poverty level.
DeFazio says meeting with the Biden administration was completely different from working on past relief bills. Trump, he explains, wasn’t engaged in any of it aside from threatening to veto the bills or posturing for bigger individual stimulus checks. But with Biden, the whole atmosphere had changed.
“He could cite details, he could respond and ask good questions,” DeFazio says of the current president. “He could carry a line of thought and reasoning consistently for an hour and a half, whereas the former president was incapable of maintaining a cogent line of thought for more than a minute.”
He adds it couldn’t have been a bigger contrast, which was evident in the atmosphere in the Oval Office. DeFazio says the new office decor includes figures like Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
DeFazio is also looking ahead to the massive climate-conscious rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Before the meeting got started, Biden gave DeFazio a shoutout, saying he “can hardly wait” to sit down with DeFazio and work on infrastructure.
“He can’t wait, so like I said, it’s a great start,” DeFazio says, adding that he’s already been in touch with Biden’s chief economic advisor, his chief counsel and his Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.