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Senate Agrees To Infrastructure Package Deal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Compromise, cooperation - words the U.S. public hasn't associated with the U.S. Senate in a long time. But Democrats and 17 Republicans this week agreed on a more than $1 trillion infrastructure package that includes $550 billion of new spending on roads and utilities. It would be the largest federal investment in crumbling highways and bridges in more than a decade. Senator Mike Braun, a Republican of Indiana, joins us now. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

MIKE BRAUN: Hey. My pleasure.

SIMON: As I noted, a lot of your fellow Republicans voted to advance this spending package, including your fellow senator, a Republican from Indiana, Todd Young. You didn't. Why?

BRAUN: So I got here 2 1/2 years ago when we were 18 trillion in debt. Now close to 28 trillion - those are record levels for our country. And we were investors and savers coming out of World War II when it was almost this high as a percentage of our GDP. And now we're spenders and consumers, so...

SIMON: I have to interrupt for a moment, Senator.

BRAUN: Yeah?

SIMON: That was a debt that was largely run up under the previous Republican administration, wasn't it?

BRAUN: And I blame this across the board. Republicans, technically since they make this an issue often, arguably more to blame than Democrats where they're out there. They believe the federal government is that vehicle to do the things they'd like to see done and are not shy about borrowing the money or maybe raising revenues, which always has an economic growth trade-off. Regardless, my worry is that for the number of people that look to the federal government for defending the country infrastructure, our entitlement programs, we are not putting ourselves in a strong position for down the road. Kids and grandkids will have to shoulder the debt and fix the process that's broken. That's my issue.

SIMON: The American Society of Civil Engineers says there's a water main break every two minutes in this country. Six billion gallons of water are wasted day in and day out. Forty-two percent of all bridges in the country are at least half a century old. One in 5 school-aged children can't get high-speed Internet. Can't the argument be made that this is a national crisis? This is a war, and only the federal government has the resources to set the country right in a way that'll be productive for everyone?

BRAUN: Yeah, I'm not going to really debate with those issues because I agree with all of them being in need. But we're killing the golden goose that has done so much over the years to be that place you'd look for to solve the issues. And that's what I'm worried about.

SIMON: Were the Trump tax cuts a bad idea?

BRAUN: They were forecasted by the CBO...

SIMON: Congressional Budget Office, yeah.

BRAUN: ...Yeah, to cost 1.5 trillion over 10 years. That pales in comparison to how much we're adding to stuff that's not going to be paid for but used mostly whenever you give tax cuts like that. You got to remember spending has been increasing 6 to 6 1/2 percent, and revenues were growing with those lower rates at 4 to 4 1/2 percent. But we can't get ahead that way. We're actually getting behind. So I thought those had a healthy component to it. And I think the CBO would have acknowledged that had we not run into COVID.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the math that proponents of the legislation have advanced. The bill they support would pay for 380 billion of it by redirecting COVID-relief funds, trying to recover some fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefits, delaying a Medicare rebate rule, boosting tax enforcement mostly around cryptocurrency. And they are confident that the $170 billion left over could be provided by increased growth. You don't share that figuring?

BRAUN: There'll be the feeling of growth along the lines of, like, a sugar high when you are putting this much into the economy. The pay-fors, in my mind, when you're finding money here and there throughout various funds where it's already been authorized and borrowed, that's not dedicated funding. That's taking money that arguably should be kept in those places to where you don't borrow more money there. So it's scrambling.

SIMON: What's going to, do you think, happen to this infrastructure bill in the House?

BRAUN: Depending on whether the $3.5 trillion soft infrastructure bill comes along out of here - remember Pelosi had said, if we don't get - she doesn't get both of them at the same time, she's not going to run with the bill we're working on now. I think Pelosi will probably ram it through in its entirety through reconciliation, and then Senate Democrats will do the same thing when it comes back over here.

SIMON: Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

BRAUN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.