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Congress returns to grapple with security, infrastructure

WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers will return this week to the stark reminder of continued threats as the body of Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans will lie in honor in the Rotunda. He died in a Good Friday attack outside the building.

The most recent incident has increased the call to bolster a beleaguered police force facing turnover and vacancies following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

Capitol security is just one of the pressing issues that face the House and Senate, which also plan to take up President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill and proposed tax hikes.

With an evenly divided Senate, liberal lawmakers’ hope of passing gun control and voting rights measures were dashed last week when a key Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he would oppose the changes to the filibuster, which creates a 60-vote threshold.

But hope remains for the infrastructure bill after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats, who control the chamber due to the vice president’s tie-breaking vote, can reopen the budget and pass infrastructure proposals under reconciliation rules that require a simple majority.

Nevada lawmakers want an infusion of federal funds for highway and transportation projects, a way to create jobs and boost an economy shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Committee influence

Highway and rail proposals must go through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., wields power as the chairwoman of a subcommittee that will shape the Biden bill.

“President Biden put forward a framework that would update and improve our infrastructure while creating millions of new jobs,” Titus said. “Now it’s up to us to work out the details over the next few months.”

Titus said the bill produced by the House should include projects to “advance Interstate 11 between Las Vegas and Phoenix, reduce traffic on Interstate 15, and support passenger train service between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.”

Biden also spoke of investment to provide broadband access nationwide for telehealth services and educational opportunities to help residents in rural areas.

Improving schools, pipelines and bridges and upgrading the nation’s electrical grid are also included.

Nevada and New Mexico lawmakers are prepared to file a bill aimed at providing a tax credit to spur private investment to improve the electrical grid and connect renewable energy from wind and solar farms to the consumer market.

The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford of Nevada.

Republican opposition

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called on committee chairs to reach across party lines for input from Republicans on the infrastructure bill.

But Republicans have panned the legislation as a giveaway and handout to unions and Democratic special interest groups.

GOP leaders also said the plan would be paid for with a rollback on Trump-era tax cuts that benefited most Americans.

Biden has proposed an increase in the corporate tax to 28 percent from 21 percent. Additional tax increases on high-income earners is also being discussed.

Republicans tagged the president’s proposals as “Bidenomics.”

“Republicans are committed to investing and improving America’s infrastructure, but any plan must be targeted, paid for, and pro-worker,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Biden, in a speech unveiling the massive plan, said investing in crumbling infrastructure would make America globally competitive while creating millions of jobs following the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Pelosi told reporters during her weekly news conference that she expects the Transportation Committee to complete a bill by May, and the entire package approved by the Democratic-controlled House by the Fourth of July.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said conversations with committee members will begin this week on the process to determine funding for projects, which is likely to come in the form of competitive and formula grants.

“Most of our existing transportation funding flows through formula grants, which gives states a lot of flexibility on how to prioritize and spend their federal dollars based on what their needs are,” Psaki said.

Competive grants could be used to leverage more local investment an funnel funds to most needed projects.

Police needs

In addition to the infrastructure legislation, Pelosi said the House is working on a supplemental bill to address the needs of the Capitol Police, which has 200 vacancies. Police officials said more positions are needed.

Pelosi said House Democrats are looking to increase the size of the force, as well as training for intelligence gathering. She said a discussion is underway about physical structures, and whether to bring back fencing that was recently removed.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was open to a supplemental security package but stopped short of endorsing physical structures like fencing.

“I don’t know how you get to the balance of 100 percent security plus the public’s right to have access to their Capitol,” Warner said.

What happened on Good Friday, Pelosi said, “it’s just so shocking to all of us.”

Evans, 41, an 18-year veteran of the Capitol Police, was struck by a car that smashed into a Capitol barricade by a man who wielded a knife. Evans died from his injuries. Noah Green, 25, then lunged at police with the knife. He was shot and killed by Capitol Police. A motive for the attack has not been disclosed.

Another officer, whose name has not been released, was taken to a hospital, treated for injuries and released the next day.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Evans would be honored by Congress.

“In giving his life to protect our Capitol and our country, Officer Evans became a martyr for our democracy,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in the announcement.

The attack is the first at the Capitol since the Jan. 6 insurrection in which violent rioters smashed their way into the House and Senate following a rally by former President Donald Trump.

National Guardsmen continue to patrol the Capitol even though fencing erected after the insurrection has been removed to allow more public access to the House and Senate.

Capitol Police claim they need more than 800 additional officers and intelligence capabilities to defend against another attack.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin @reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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