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Capito comments on infrastructure bill, drug overdose deaths, during talk with W.Va. press

MORGANTOWN – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Zoomed with members of the West Virginia press Thursday and much of the conversation focused on the passage and signing of the bipartisan infrastructure – BIF – bill.

“In my view, this is a major win for the country,” she said. She’d play a lead role in the shaping the surface transportation and drinking water provisions of the bill and doesn’t like that it’s been politicized.

She ticked off the $6 billion worth of benefits that the bill will bring to West Virginia across five years: $3 billion for roads and highways, $500 million for bridges, $40 million for airports, $600 million for broadband and $475 million for water and sewer among them. “All these things are great and they’re good for our country,” she said.

Regarding the other so-called infrastructure bill, Build Back Better, that is working its way toward a vote in the House, she said, “People are so confused.” She continues to call it a “reckless spending and tax bill.”

She doesn’t oppose every provision of Build Back Better, she said. “Some of the things are good, but we need to have bipartisan discussion on this.”

She said recent news reports from the left and the right – in the Washington Post and FOX Business and on CNN – point out the hypocrisy of the bill, because the House inserted a significant tax cut for the rich. It proposes to raise the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes – the SALT provision – from Trump’s $10,000 to $80,000.

This will benefit 70% of households earning more than $200,000 and give the biggest boost to those making more than $500,000, according to the Tax Foundation.

It’s the second-most costly part of the Democrats’ bill, Capito said. “It’s very hypocritical, at the least.”

She addressed a question about Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and 12 other House Republicans taking heat for supporting BIF – as she and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did in the Senate.

“He knows that this is good for our state,” she said. “What are we doing here if we send our representative to Washington to vote on what they feel … is in in the best interest of their constituents and then when they do that we threaten to strip them committees” or disavow them of their right to express their opinion. “I don’t think that is what our founders wanted.”

And the voters wanted BIF, she said.

Former President Trump has been leading the chorus of GOP opposition to the 13 House Republicans and the Senate Republicans who supported BIF, issuing a stream of insults. The Dominion Post asked Capito about dealing with that division.

She said Trump started the infrastructure discussion, and while he couldn’t get it over the finish line because of Democratic opposition, “he needs to remind himself of that.” His failure doesn’t mean the legislation isn’t important. “I don’t really appreciate his comments. I don’t think its a good idea to create divisiveness within our own party.”

She talked with all three members of the House delegation, she said, and all three are free to make their own decisions and to explain their positions to their constituents. “We need to hear all voices.”

On other topics, Capito said she favors some form of paid leave for parents. She has seven grandkids and knows how difficult it is for a couple to start out. Some studies show that paid leave enhances workforce retention.

Capito also commented on the CDC’s estimate released Wednesday that 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses from May 2020 to April 2021, with West Virginia having the highest per capita rate at 90 people per 100,000. Experts tie the increased number to the social challenges – isolation, loss of access to treatment – that arose from the pandemic and to the growth of fentanyl in the illegal drug marker.

“I think we just have to redouble our efforts,” she said. While telehealth can play a role, the rise of telehealth during the pandemic shows that it can’t be the primary solution, she added. Medication-assisted treatment and improved border safety to stop the flow of fentanyl play important roles too, Capito said.

Capito said she is counting on drug czar and former West Virginia Public Health Commissioner Rahul Gupta to help lead the way. Gupta is quoted in news reports saying, “This is unacceptable, and it requires an unprecedented response.”

Manchin sid in a press release about the news, “Congress must permanently schedule illicit fentanyl, which is to blame for more than 75% of overdose deaths, and fund treatment centers in order to help our fellow West Virginians and Americans recover from substance use disorder that has taken far too many people already.”

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