Four Democratic presidential candidates used a first-of-its kind town hall dedicated to America's infrastructure needs to push ambitious plans to expand rural broadband, fix the nation's transportation systems, including waterways, while also addressing climate change.
The "Moving America Forward" event in Las Vegas on Sunday was organized by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers as well as other trade groups, and labor unions. The Nevada caucuses are set for Saturday. The candidates fielded questions from Wall Street Journal journalists.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said that investing in America's ports is critical expanding U.S. businesses.
“You’ve got to have the most modern ports, you’ve got to have the most modern airports, you have the most modern locks and dams (and) you’ve got to be able to get product from your factory to your customer quickly,” Biden said. He also touched on how he would invest in improving waterways as well as clean energy.
He is proposing to spend $1.3 trillion over the next ten years to rebuild road, bridges, buildings, and the electric grid. In his climate plan, he said he would modernize the nation’s locks and dams.
Biden is hoping to turn things around in Nevada after poor showings with voters in New Hampshire and Iowa.
While also talking about how she would address climate change, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota stressed how she would improve high-speed internet connectivity across rural America.
It is a task not only for the federal government but also for the major telecommunication carriers, she said.
“It is a combination responsibility,” Klobuchar said, reiterating her goal to expand broadband to every household by 2022
“There’s every reason to think we can do that, to connect every area of the country. Not to dialup slow-speed but to high-speed internet,” she said.
Klobuchar proposed $650 billion in federal spending for infrastructure. Some would go to help state and local governments leverage private funds. She also would create a clean energy bank to leverage public funds to attract private investment, which is something Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he would do to do.
Buttigieg is calling for $1 trillion in spending with some $250 billion for a clean energy bank. He said part of the problem in climate discussions right now is that people don’t understand farmers could be part of the solution.
“The potential for carbon capture in soil is enormous,” Buttigieg said. He also said he would create some 8 million new jobs through his infrastructure plan.
“Across society, whether we’re talking about the military ... or whether we are talking about farming, we have to make this into a national mobilization where everybody has been recruited as a part of the solution,” he said.
Buttigieg also touched on how he would invest more in conservation research.
In his plan, he would add $165 billion to the highway trust fund. Some $5 billion would go toward repairing inland waterways and $80 billion would be used expand rural broadband.
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Billionaire Tom Steyer touted his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to focus on “climate resilient” projects. He would provide $775 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
“Once you have electric vehicles, how long does it take to actually charge up your vehicle and how practical it is?” Steyer said. When asked if construction should be done through the federal government or private sector, Steyer said it depends.
If charging stations operate like gas stations do today, serving paying customers, construction could be left to the private sector. If people have to charge their cars at home, the government would have to help with those costs, Steyer said.
Steyer said that “everyone is subject to climate, including people in middle America.” His plan also would spend $500 billion for clean water systems and parks.
Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, said the conversation over how to address the nation's infrastructure should not end with the town hall.
“Voters have already declared 2020 the ‘Manufacturing Election,’” Slater said. “Any candidate who wants to make it to November’s ballot must keep infrastructure, and the equipment manufacturing industry’s 1.3 million men and women, at the top of their list.”
President Donald Trump and other Democratic presidential candidates were invited to Sunday’s event but did not attend.
In his budget, Trump proposed a $1 trillion “Revitalizing Rural America” infrastructure initiative that would provide funding for broadband, transportation and other projects, according to the White House.
The largest portion of the 10-year infrastructure plan, $810 billion, would go toward improving surface transportation.