Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo Remains Optimistic on Infrastructure

By Lauren Ban
Jul 13 2021 |
An ironworker helps to guide structural steel into place during the construction of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York. Photo by New York State Thruway Authority

“We all owe it to one another and the American people to get this across the finish line,” Raimondo said during a digital event on Tuesday.

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continued Tuesday on back-and-forth negotiations over a potential bipartisan infrastructure investment package, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she believes that a final deal will come to fruition. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo Photo by Commerce Department

“If anyone can do it, it’s President Biden…I am optimistic. We are working all day, every day. Here is why I am optimistic: people realize the stakes are very high,” Raimondo said during a virtual event hosted by The Washington Post.  

There’s general consensus in Washington that the country is long overdue for robust infrastructure investment. Infrastructure is a top priority for Biden, and a bipartisan deal between 21 senators was reached in June. But now the other 79 senators have their chance to weigh in, and as these things tend to go in Washington, nothing is certain. There’s a lot of work left to do to get the legislation across the finish line. 

But Raimondo said she felt confident the deal would pass, and potentially quite soon. It has been rumored that the Senate plans to take up the deal the week of July 19, which would only give senators a few weeks to pass legislation before the August recess.  

“Momentum matters…and things slow down in August, so we want to move,” Raimondo said. 

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has made a concerted effort to promote the infrastructure deal, with both Biden and cabinet officials stumping for the package across the country.  

“We…have been directed by [President Biden] to engage across party lines with the House and the Senate. It’s the only way to get things done,” Raimondo said. The Commerce Secretary has been on the road recently, herself, visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the last week of June.  

“The president has been admirable in his willingness to compromise in order to deliver. What he’s been unwilling to accept is inaction or leaving for the break with nothing happening,” Raimondo added. 

While there have been some bumps in the road since the announcement of the Senate bipartisan deal, Raimondo seemed to be unfazed.  

“Here’s the reality: each and every member of the House and Senate has been elected and sent to Washington by their constituents. They’re here, by and large, with the best of intentions to deliver to their constituents. We cannot expect them to rubberstamp any particular plan,” Raimondo said. “Which is to say, they have legitimate questions, legitimate concerns, legitimate issues they want addressed and it is our job to address them.” 

On her end, Raimondo has spent the past few weeks addressing lawmakers’ concerns over providing broadband internet access, ensuring American competitiveness, and funding for the proposed initiatives. “It’s been a month and a half of incredible progress,” Raimondo said.  

“Absolutely central to our ability to compete is making sure that we unlock all of the talent in our labor force,” Raimondo said when asked about some of her proposed solutions for ensuring American competitiveness. Raimondo has been an outspoken proponent of ensuring every American has the ability to participate in the labor force.  

“Women have dropped out of the labor force in record numbers…why? Because schools closed, childcare centers closed, homecare workers couldn’t get to work, and women shouldered the burden of taking care of children, our elderly loved one, our disabled loved one – which means they couldn’t work. They couldn’t hold down a job,” Raimondo explained.  

That is why, she argued, passing both President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan is crucial. While the American Jobs Plan provides good-paying jobs, the American Families Plan ensures that all Americans are able to take advantage of those jobs.  

“We have deferred investments in infrastructure for decades,” Raimondo said. “I am optimistic that we will get both parts done.” 

During the virtual event on Tuesday, Raimondo also touched on the Commerce Department’s effort to establish funding for “tech hubs,” a concept where communities come together to apply for funding as a regional cluster of innovation.  

“There are so many areas around the country where you have world-class talent, great universities, maybe one or two big companies,” Raimondo explained. “The communities need to come together…to develop a cluster of innovation and apply for this money.” 

Similar to the American Jobs Plan, Raimondo explained that these tech hubs would help to promote technology and innovation in dispersed areas across the country, rather than just the concentrated areas that we have come to know (for example: Silicon Valley, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Boston).  

“You have to get the flywheel going, and once you get the flywheel going, it’s self-sustaining,” Raimondo said.  

So, what it comes down to now, then, is getting the flywheel going. Fully recognizing this,  Raimondo ended the event on Tuesday by remarking on how urgent it is that Congress act on the infrastructure deal.  

“We all owe it to one another and the American people to get this across the finish line,” Raimondo said.