MORGANTOWN – Sen, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spent some virtual time with West Virginia reporters on Thursday to share on thoughts on the COVID relief package signed by the president, the coming surface transportation bill and the escalating border crisis.
She noted that it was a year ago Thursday that the pandemic was officially announced in the state. “I think we sure have evolved and I’m really proud of the way our state’s getting the vaccinations out.”
She reiterated her mixed feelings about President Biden’s COVID bill, called the American Rescue Plan. “Some of what’s in here I very, very much believe in.” That includes the $1,400 checks, the unemployment and business relief, the money for COVID testing, contact tracing and vaccines.
But that’s only about 9% of the entire bill, she said. “That’s not targeted reform.”
Capito mentioned measures that shouldn’t have been in a COVID relief bill: $86 million of pension plan bailouts, environmental justice grants, grants to fish and wildlife, and employment benefit extensions for federal workers (news reports say those include $570 million for family-leave accounts fto give employees with children out of school up to $21,000 in emergency leave pay).
Asked about who’s going to pay for the pork, Capito objected to giving away money to cities with poor track records of money management. And some states are still refusing to begin reopening. “We’re going to end up with a lot of waste here.”
Capito is ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is crafting the next surface transportation bill, designed to provide road and bridge money to states for five to six years.
Last year, she said, EPW was able to put out a bipartisan product which unfortunately didn’t make it to the finish line. She’s been working with the Democratic panel leadership this time and hopes to turn out another bipartisan bill. Last year she made sure there was more money for the aging bridges across West Virginia and the nation.
She foresees getting something done by May so Congress can have a bill for Biden to sign sometime in the summer, she said. The bill will have more measures to address climate change – electric charging stations and other things – and she’s all for that.
But the Highway Trust Fund is supplied by fuel taxes and has been suffering as greener, more fuel efficient cars reduce revenues, she said. They have to find ways to make up the shortfall and Democrats may call for tax hikes. They may also try to pass it without Republican support, through reconciliation, which bypasses the filibuster and requires a simple majority instead of 60 votes.
“This is where the filibuster becomes extremely important,” she said, to secure bipartisan buy-in.
Capito has chaired and is now ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. As a result of Biden’s relaxed immigration policy, unaccompanied children have been attempting to cross the southern border in record numbers. “This is a crisis at the border.”
They are supposed to be detained for no more than 72 hours, but they’re being held for 80 hours or more. COVID precautions are ignored and kids are packed together unsafely.
The ripple effect, she said, is that the Border Patrol is preoccupied with this humanitarian issue and is distracted from disrupting the flow if illegal drugs. “What I think we’re going to see is a bad effect throughout our state.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke to the press about the COVID bill Tuesday after the Senate passed it.
“It’s bold, it’s strong, it has a lot of different areas it covers,” he said then. He worked to include some Republican concerns in the bill.
He went over portions of a three-page summary of some of the bill’s features and how they affect West Virginia. He noted that 891,039 West Virginia households will receive stimulus checks totaling $2,275,091.
Local governments will receive $677 million: $176 million total for larger metro areas, including Morgantown; $153 million for smaller cities; and $348 million for the 55 counties, based on population. Metro areas and counties will receive their money from the U.S. Treasury. The small cities will have theirs distributed through the state treasury; that money must be distributed within 30 days.
West Virginia will receive $1.25 billion, same as under CARES.
Manchin said he made sure that this round of local and state money can be used for infrastructure: water, sewer and internet conection.
He expressed optimism about getting the country rebooted, noting economist predictions of an increased summer demand for labor. “We should be opened back by June or July, I assure you.”
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