Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, urged Congress on Thursday to make a “generational investment” to improve the nation’s transit and water systems and address climate change and racial inequities, as Democrats began laying the groundwork to pass sweeping infrastructure proposals that could cost $3 trillion to $4 trillion.
Mr. Buttigieg’s inaugural testimony before a key House panel highlighted not only the enormous stakes of the Biden administration’s impending pair of infrastructure proposals, which could help President Biden deliver on a number of campaign promises and reshape the country’s economic and energy future, but also the hurdles ahead. Republicans at the hearing grilled Mr. Buttigieg over how to pay for the plan and signaled that they would not support any legislation that went much beyond the nation’s roads, bridges and waterways.
Mr. Biden’s proposals envision far more than that: One would address physical infrastructure projects and development, including clean energy and other measures to take on climate change, and the other would make investments in child care, education and caregiving.
“I believe that we have at this moment the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make a generational investment in infrastructure that will help us meet the country’s most pressing challenges today, and create a stronger future for decades to come,” Mr. Buttigieg said, adding that the legislation would serve as a sequel to the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief plan approved this month.
Democrats have professed optimism for a bipartisan package, particularly after pushing the pandemic relief legislation through both chambers over unanimous Republican opposition, and lawmakers in both parties repeatedly emphasized that infrastructure had traditionally been a source of cooperation.
But early partisan divisions spilled over at the hearing, with Republicans criticizing the size and some of the goals of Mr. Biden’s proposals.
It remains unclear whether top Democrats, with slim majorities in both chambers and control of the White House, will be willing to curtail their ambitions to satisfy Republicans. They have refused to rule out using a fast-track budget process, known as reconciliation, to bypass Republican opposition and the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate to advance Mr. Biden’s infrastructure initiatives on strictly party-line votes.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats would pursue a bipartisan legislative package but would have to “make a judgment” about how to accomplish more ambitious goals related to addressing climate change and economic inequality that Republicans might not support.
“One of the challenges that we face is we cannot just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future,” she said.