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Rep. Meijer notes 'hollow effort' in achieving bipartisan objectives as infrastructure talks collapse

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest with President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Video Transcript

- Well, Democratic and Republican lawmakers are scrambling to draft a bipartisan infrastructure bill after talks between the White House and Republicans collapsed earlier this week. The big sticking point though still, how to pay for the infrastructure investments. Let's bring in Republican Congressman Peter Meijer from Michigan. We've also got "Yahoo Finance's" Jessica Smith joining in on the conversation.

And, Congressman, it's good to talk to you today. You're a member of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus. You've put forward this plan of about $761 billion in new spending. How much support do you have for that outside of this bipartisan group?

PETER MEIJER: You know, that what we put forward, which is an eight-year framework, is just that. It's a framework. We've tried to focus on key items that are traditionally known as infrastructure, not adding in or trying to expand the categories into human infrastructure, but to say, we have real, tangible things we need to be doing. We need to be focusing on long-term investments in our roads, our bridges, our tunnels. We need to be focusing on getting rural broadband and bridging the digital divide in this nation.

So this eight-year, $1.249 trillion, and to your point, there was around $700 billion, depending on the estimates, anywhere from $550 to $750 billion in new spending over that eight-year time frame. Our framework was focusing on where the priority spending should be. And the next stage of those talks will be focused on how we pay for it.

JESSICA SMITH: Hi, Congressman. Jessica Smith here. We are starting to hear from some progressive lawmakers who are saying, if climate measures are not included in this bill, then no deal. What kind of climate provisions do you think should be in an infrastructure package?

PETER MEIJER: So in our package, there's still some funding for electric vehicle infrastructure, including and with a strong focus on transit infrastructure. I drive an electric vehicle. I still found, I think it was the $400 billion that the Biden administration had thrown out for electric charging infrastructure to be hard to justify, especially given the pace of market rate charging infrastructure that's already being developed.

So there is certainly that component. But oftentimes, when we start talking about we need this to be focused solely on climate change, that is not often pegged to realistic metrics. It's more an excuse to wrap in unrelated priorities but just to put it under the broad brush "infrastructure" because everyone wants to build, right?

JESSICA SMITH: I guess, how do you make that distinction when infrastructure-transportation is so intertwined with climate? How do you draw the line of what is core infrastructure and what's not?

PETER MEIJER: I mean, to me, what draws the line is what supports and underpins our economy and our functioning as the country. I mean, to your point, you can make the extrapolation that a highway has cars driving on it, and the cars driving on it may or may not be emitting carbon depending on their propulsion mechanism. But to say that we need to be thinking about climate change and whether or not to repave a highway, I think, a little bit misses the forest for the trees.

And so to an extent, you can link everything together if you're creative enough with your rhetoric. But if we also don't ground this and realize that these are literally concrete measures-- I mean, we will be pouring concrete as part of this infrastructure plan-- that we should be focused on what that is and not trying to just stretch these definitions past anything a dictionary might find even remotely plausible.

- I want to ask you about this climate movement that you're part of, a growing movement within the conservative wing of the party now. You say "conservative," typically climate change awareness doesn't really top the register there. What's that like for you? And what's that building process, that consensus-building process like?

PETER MEIJER: Yeah, please don't confuse my desire to make sure that infrastructure talks infrastructure and that environmental and climate proposals talk environment and climate. I do not like these conflations. I do not like omnibus efforts that try to wrap everything together and make it harder to focus on how they're actually going to be impactful.

But to your point, I believe that climate change is a real and pressing threat to this country. I think that we should be taking it not only a conservation mindset but also realizing that how we get to where our goal is is just as important as what that goal is. If we look at a lot of the economies that are able to get their carbon emissions down, that were able to have a strong coexistence with their environment, it's not countries that focus overly on social planning, and it's ones that still have a vibrant economy.

So we need to realize what that wellspring, what that engine is. And I strongly resist the efforts to conflate climate change and protection of the environment with wrapping in unrelated social policies. And to me, the Green New Deal was an effort to take an issue that a lot of folks agree on, which is environmental protection and the climate, to take that and use that as an excuse for a fundamental transformation of the American economy and towards a top-down, centrally planned system rather than one that will be bottom-up, focused on outcomes, and overall giving us the prosperity we need to take care of the planet that we depend on.

- Following up on the point that Jessica made though about where in fact that line is, what environmental issues, what climate issues should fall under the infrastructure umbrella? What about something like building out the renewable energy grid? I mean, you mentioned that all of this should underpin the economy. And yet some would argue, well, if you're addressing climate, well, shouldn't it be about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which ultimately means you have to build out the energy grid in a cleaner way?

PETER MEIJER: Absolutely. There is a strong emphasis on-- and I actually would prefer to relitigate the current war of the prior century and focusing on, if we're going to be looking at where our renewable energy resources are, whether that's hydro, wind, solar, how we get those resources, which oftentimes are in less populated areas, how do we get that energy generated efficiently to the areas where the consumption is highest?

I also think there's a strong benefit from an overall resiliency standpoint, and that can be because of foreign intrusion and grid protection or because of natural disasters, to having more distributed generation rather than massive, centralized generation. So it's going to require some retooling of the grid to account for greater solar and wind production.

I think there are also fantastic opportunities to take advantage of the greater expansion of electric vehicles to provide more backup and resiliency to the grid. But we need to be thinking about that in a smart, long-term way. So in the plan that the Problem Solvers Caucus put forward, it also had a significant tranche, a lot allocated for grid resiliency, and that has a two-fold approach. That's making sure what we have right now is reliable and protected but also that it's going to be well suited to adapt to changing patterns of both energy consumption and energy generation.

JESSICA SMITH: Congressman, I wanted to ask just a more broad question. In your first term in Congress here, you have bucked your party on a few occasions, most notably during the impeachment vote. What do you think are other areas where lawmakers might be able to reach across the aisle, might be able to find some bipartisan compromise going forward?

PETER MEIJER: Well, I saw the segment before where it was talking about the JBS ransomware attack. And just yesterday in Homeland Security, we were talking with the CEO of the Colonial Pipeline about that incident.

I think making sure that our country is fortified against these threats from hostile foreign actors, whether they are state sponsored, whether they are criminal organizations operating with some vague notion of state protection, or whether they are state actors themselves, we need to be making sure we're doing everything we can to protect not only our electrical grid, as I mentioned, but just our infrastructure from a critical standpoint, and that includes pipelines but also our economy and our business environment in general.

I think we'll have strong bipartisan agreement there on the cybersecurity front. We've already seen strong bipartisan agreement in a number of foreign policy areas and also just dealing with how to protect, and defend, and strengthen this country. Where it's really going to get-- and the rubber will hit the roads we hope to build is how to pay for the infrastructure plan. And so that's what we're currently speaking to right now.

So we may have some disagreements there, but I think, overall, there are areas where we can find bipartisan agreement, but it has to actually be bipartisan. And all too often with the Biden administration, it's been a-- what I would call "revolutionary" but they would phrase as "transformational" plans being put forward that are not open to compromise, that are not open to traditional legislative systems. And as a result, it's really been a pretty hollow effort at achieving some type of bipartisan objective.

- Yeah, actual bipartisanship, I'm holding my breath for that. Representative Peter Meijer, thank you for joining us here.