Senator Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland, the Chair for the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, sat down with Yahoo Finance's Julie Hyman to discuss President Joe Biden's upcoming infrastructure plan, including bipartisan efforts on the bill, as well to break down its most important components.
JULIE HYMAN: Senator Ben Cardin represents my home state of Maryland. He's also a key player in trying to get through the president's $2 trillion infrastructure bill. I spoke with him earlier today about the gulf that tends to happen between plans in Washington and reality. He talked about the prospects for infrastructure.
BEN CARDIN: We hope that we can make significant progress on roads, bridges, and we hope also transit systems and rail that will be able to see some bipartisan work. I know that in regards to broadband, there are groups working to try to get a broadband proposal that could enjoy bipartisan support. So there is significant progress right now being done to try to see whether we can get bipartisan agreement to move forward on parts of President Biden's Build American Jobs Plan that includes the infrastructure package.
So there's progress. Obviously, there are differences. The president wants us to act. I want to act. I think we should act as boldly as we possibly can. And I think we need to act promptly.
JULIE HYMAN: So when you talk about it-- sort of different pieces of it and there being bipartisan support for different pieces, what are the pieces that you think are going to need to go to reconciliation? I know that that is a possibility that you have talked about. What are going to be the trickiest parts of this that might have to go that route?
BEN CARDIN: That's always an option that we can use. I think at this point, that's really up more to the Republicans and the Democrats. We hope that we could put together as much as possible, if not the entire package, using regular procedures. The advantage of that is that you can deal with policy changes that you cannot necessarily deal with in reconciliation.
So we want to get as much done as we possibly can through the normal procedures on the floor of the United States Senate. But that requires the cooperation of the Republicans. And we saw on the American Rescue Plan, we weren't able to do that.
So there will be a schedule. We're going to have to meet that schedule. We'll get as far as we possibly can. But to the extent that we can't get the bills to the floor under regular order because of the Republicans not letting us do that, then we will have to look at fallback process, such as reconciliation.
JULIE HYMAN: What do you think is the most urgent matter within that bill at this point to get through?
BEN CARDIN: They're all urgent. And we have to modernize our transportation. Our current surface transportation authorization ends the ends of September. We need the predictability of a multi-year transportation reauthorization.
It's got to be robust enough to deal with the current backlog we have in roads, and bridges, and transit systems, and rail, ports. But it also has to be visionary to deal with the challenges we have with adaptation, and resiliency, and social justice issues. So we have a lot we have to get done, certainly in transportation, and that is very, very urgent.
But broadband is absolutely urgent. There's bipartisan agreement that every home in America should have access to high-speed affordable internet service. It's critically important for their children in education. It's critically important for families on health care today with more and more being done through telehealth and just connection that's-- you need to be connected and the internet's part of that connection.
So that's-- that's urgent. So it's hard to isolate one part of the package and say we can put that on hold. Our children are still exposed to lead. We've got to get lead out of pipes. That's critically important.
JULIE HYMAN: Yeah, a fair-- fair point. Of course, part of the sort of area of conflict around the bill and bills has to do with how they're going to be paid for. And I'm wondering what your openness is to user fees, tolls, gas tax, and the like in order to pay for some of this?
BEN CARDIN: Well, I'll be clear, I have certain areas that I would prefer to use over other areas. I have not announced that, because I really do want to give all of our members a chance to talk among ourselves and see whether we can listen to each other and come up with consensus revenue sources. Clearly, user fees to support transportation has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.
And I will support user fees that are reasonable in order to finance transportation. So I'm open. There's some new ideas on user fees. Let's talk about that. There's also ones that are more sensitive towards a cleaner environment. I'm certainly very interested in using revenue sources that support our climate agenda.
JULIE HYMAN: I want to move on to the American Families Plan, which, of course, is another huge ambitious plan that is on the president's agenda. And you came out with a statement about the plan. You talked about how it will help women in the workforce. What happens if that part of the plan or the plan itself overall doesn't get through? What are the consequences for women as we come out of the pandemic?
BEN CARDIN: Well, you're absolutely right. I mean, we clearly have a challenge for women in the workforce. We saw that during the pandemic. We knew about it before the pandemic. We still do not have equal pay for equal work in America. We have the issues of the affordability of day care for principally women being able to participate in the workforce.
We have so many challenges. We have the need for taking leave to deal with an urgent situation in the family, it affects both men and women, but women are affected more often than men on the need for paid leave. All those are critically important to make up for the historic challenges that women have had in the workforce.
I see that firsthand in entrepreneurship. That's one of the areas that I'm responsible as chairman of the Small Business Committee in the Senate. And we are looking at ways that we can provide more defined tools available for entrepreneurship for women, because these challenges that they have have affected their ability to start businesses. So yes, we recognize that we have a challenge. The American Family Plan deals with those challenges.
And it's hard to say what's more important than something else. We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. We got to make American families have the tools they need. We have to provide the job training so people can fill the jobs that we want to create under the American Jobs Plan. All of it becomes critically important.
JULIE HYMAN: And of course, a plan that is sort of winding down now is the Paycheck Protection Program. The small businesses got an extension. Now they have till the end of May in order to apply for that. Is that enough time? Do we need to see another extension of the PPP? Or as we start to see economic numbers improving, has that program sort of served its purpose and now it's time to sunset it?
BEN CARDIN: Well, I think we have to recognize how important PPP program was. 10 million small businesses participated in these forgivable loans. Over $750 billion in help went to American small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program alone. And that didn't include the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and advance program or loan forgiveness program.
So altogether, we've made close to $1 trillion available to small businesses. We're now interested in really fine-tuning those programs, not a broad program, but only dealing with those businesses that have extraordinary needs, they're in underserved communities, underbanked communities, the smaller of the small businesses. In certain category industries such as restaurants or shuttered venues, we have programs that are opening as we speak to help the shuttered venues.
The restaurant program will be opening shortly. We need to monitor those programs to see whether additional help is needed. But we do think there's going to be additional help needed for small businesses, but not the broad plan such as the PPP, more finely-tuned to those small businesses that need the help.