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In Infrastructure Plan Sales Pitch, White House Touts Benefits For Rural America And Tribes

The White House
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg addressing reporters via Zoom on Monday, April 12.

The White House on Monday released information about President Biden's proposed American Jobs Plan infrastructure package, meant to sell the public on how its passage would benefit states, territories, Tribes and rural America.

"President Biden’s American Jobs Plan directly invests in rural and Tribal communities, including by providing 100% broadband coverage, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure like roads and water systems, and positioning the U.S. agricultural sector to lead the shift to net- zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers," according to one news release

In a press conference held via Zoom on Monday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti spoke about the plan's prospective impact for Native communities.

"What we know is that there are frankly a lot of rural communities and a lot of parts of Indian Country that have been on the short end of inadequate infrastructure invesment and maintenance over the years," Buttigieg said. 

"The lack of access to broadband on Tribal lands is particularly severe, and so the broadband infrastructure investments in this plan, there's going to be a significant Tribal component to that," Ramamurti said, also highlighting the plan's housing and higher education components.

"Frankly, when it comes to infrastructure, the problems on Tribal lands, in many Tribal lands, are particularly severe, reflecting frankly, you know, years and decades of underinvestment by the federal government," Ramamurti said.

"Part of the idea of designing some of these initiatives with the 100% standard," Buttigieg said, "is that every community knows they'll benefit. So when we say we're going to ... deliver broadband to every single American, it means you don't have to guess whether your particular community is going to win some competitive process, that's the whole idea of getting it out to everybody."

In an email after the press briefing, a White House spokesperson did not directly answer a question about whether Tribes or other voices from Indian Country were consulted in developing the plan.

"The White House and the Administration regularly meets with Tribal leaders, Tribal organizations, and other Tribal policy experts," the spokesperson said, also highlighting a January memo from Biden stating, "It is a priority of my Administration to make respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, commitment to fulfilling Federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, and regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal Nations cornerstones of Federal Indian policy….Tribal consultation under this order strengthens the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations."

Members of Oklahoma's all-Republican federal delegation have lambasted Biden's $2 trillion plan.

"This so-called 'infrastructure' package is nothing more than a Trojan horse to advance dangerous Green New Deal policies that will cut jobs, hurt the energy industry, and burden American families," Rep. Markwayne Mullin wrote on Facebook. "Once again, House Dems are putting their agenda above the American people."

"The Biden-Harris infrastructure proposal is a far cry from what President Biden and I discussed in our White House meeting,” Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement. “President Biden’s plan uses roads and bridges – a truly bipartisan and popular issue – to try to advance the far left’s agenda. Its focus on advancing the environmental left’s vision for the American economy will hurt rural Oklahoma and eliminate oil and gas jobs. The tax hike proposal will also kill jobs and push others overseas."

Gov. Kevin Stitt also opposes the plan.

“It is disappointing that despite promising bipartisanship, the Biden Administration is set on forcing through a $2.3 trillion liberal slush fund that spends less than 6% on roads and bridges," Stitt said in a statement. (An NPR analysis found that 6% figure to be accurate regarding just roads and bridges, but that far more than 6% of the plan's proposed spending constitutes "traditional" infrastructure, like transit, railways and utilities.)

Buttigieg was asked Monday how he planned to sell the plan to Republicans.

"The case I'm making is about the jobs it will create and the demonstrated need, and what I'm finding is I don't have to convince anyone, really, that there is a need to make more investments. We just need to keep making the case for the vision and the plan that the president's proposed," Buttigieg said.

"When you're talking about $620 billion just for the transportation piece, that means that every state, every part of this country will see a major benefit," he said.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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