Cole's objections to infrastructure plan mostly unsubstantiated

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Reese Gorman, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·4 min read
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Apr. 15—As President Joe Biden begins the push to pass his American Jobs Plan the approximately $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal is getting pushback from Oklahoma's delegation in Washington, including Congressman Tom Cole.

In a statement to The Transcript, Cole, R-Okla, acknowledged that infrastructure is a priority for both parties, but said he believes that Biden's proposed plan overlooks key elements that Oklahoma needs.

"President Biden's proposal — taken in its entirety — spends too much on unrelated policies, overshadowing any worthwhile provisions to improve the conditions of roads and bridges, expand access to broadband in rural areas and other real needs," Cole said in the statement.

But many of Cole's listed reasons for not supporting the plan are actually issues solved by the American Jobs Plan. According to the White House, the plan directs billions of dollars toward issues like broadband and road conditions.

According to the White House, over 24% of residents in Oklahoma live in an area with no access to broadband, and 55.5% of Oklahomans live in an area with only one internet provider.

Biden's proposed infrastructure plan will direct billions of dollars toward universal broadband, per the administration.

"The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed and affordable coverage to every family in America," the White House said in a fact sheet released to The Transcript.

Cole's concern that the plan overlooks any "worthwhile provisions" that would improve the condition of roads and bridges also contradicts the details of the plan.

According to the White House's fact sheet, the plan would direct more than $600 billion toward the nation's transportation infrastructure, including $115 billion directed to repairing roads and bridges.

When The Transcript posed follow up questions asking Cole to be specific about what "unrelated policies" receive too much money in the plan, Cole's spokesperson Sarah Corley directed The Transcript to a press release.

In the press release, Cole said that Biden's plan is "the Green New Deal by another name," a statement rated by PolitiFact as "mostly false."

"The two plans share some common approaches, but a spending plan inspired by the Green New Deal is about four times larger than the Biden plan," PolitiFact reported. "The Green New Deal also advocates broader social goals that are absent from the White House infrastructure proposal."

Cole's release also said the plan focuses "a very small portion ... on traditional infrastructure needs such as updating roads, bridges, waterways and broadband..."

According to the White House the plan focuses $111 billion toward clean and safe drinking water for all communities.

Cole also said he does not agree with the infrastructure bill's funding for Medicaid expansion.

"This bill spends more on non-infrastructure related policies and social programs than actual infrastructure," Cole said in a statement. "This includes billions for Medicaid expansion, a new 'Civilian Climate Corps,' more additional funding for schools without requiring them to reopen and expanding federal control of local housing markets."

The American Job Plan will "expand access to long-term care services under Medicaid," the White House said in a release.

"President Biden's plan will expand access to home and community-based services (HCBS) and extend the longstanding Money Follows the Person program that supports innovations in the delivery of long-term care," the release said.

The plan does direct money to schools, but requiring them to re-open is not something the federal administration can do, as public schools are controlled at a state and local level. It's the same reason Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt could not force Oklahoma districts to re-open their schools despite his desire to do so.

"In Oklahoma, there is an estimated $624 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements, and 55% of residents live in a childcare desert," the White House said in a release. "The American Jobs Plan will modernize our nation's schools and early learning facilities and build new ones in neighborhoods across Oklahoma and the country."

Despite Cole's stance against the plan, a spokesperson for the City of Norman — the biggest city in Cole's district — said the city would welcome any added federal funding that comes its way.

"We are grateful for any additional funding we may receive from the federal government and would put it to good use for our community," city spokesperson Annahlyse Meyer said in a statement.

Cole also opposed Biden's COVID-19 relief package that Norman Mayor Breea Clark advocated for and that, according to polling from Amber Integrated, is supported by 52% of Oklahomans.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.