SC’s Graham says ‘failure is not an option’ as Washington resumes infrastructure talks

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to members of the media after a roundtable discussion on infrastructure in North Charleston Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.

South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham urged his Republican colleagues to set aside their political differences and work with Democrats this week to pass a massive $1 trillion infrastructure package, saying the state’s aging roads and bridges, particularly along the coast, cannot afford to wait.

“Partisan politics has got to give way to the common good,” Graham said after attending a roundtable meeting Monday about the critical infrastructure needs facing the Charleston area.

“Eventually,” the state’s senior U.S. senator said, “Republicans and Democrats have got to figure out, whether you like each other or not, you’re still stuck in traffic together.”

Graham’s urging for bipartisanship came after learning the staggering toll that population growth along the South Carolina coast is having on Charleston’s roads and bridges.

During her presentation Monday morning, S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall cited a recent report about traffic congestion released by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, The Road Information Program.

“In any given year, people in this particular region spend about 60 hours a year just sitting, stuck in traffic — 60 hours a week,” Hall said, glancing at Graham briefly before looking around at the other stakeholders seated inside Charleston County Council Chambers.

“Just think about that. That’s a week-and-a-half of work that they’re wasting just sitting in traffic,” Hall said.

Hall then made a plea of her own to Washington lawmakers, who Monday resumed debate on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that passed the Senate in August.

“We are really bursting at the seams,” she said, calling passage of a federal infrastructure bill “absolutely critical” for South Carolina moving forward.

However, it still remains to be seen whether House members can get past the partisan gridlock that often plagues Washington when considering major legislative packages.

Further complicating matters on Capitol Hill, Graham said, is a larger and unrelated $3.5 trillion budget package that Democrats are attempting to get passed as a potential government shutdown looms.

“That’d be an utter disaster,” Graham said of the bigger deal, which includes proposals to invest in climate policy and social programs. “There is no Republican support for the $3.5 trillion bill because it has nothing to do with infrastructure, and is a step toward socialism.”

Graham’s comments come about a month after the Senate passed the infrastructure bill in a rare show of bipartisanship. He was one of 19 Senate Republicans to vote along with all 50 Democrats in favor of the $1.2 trillion package.

South Carolina’s junior senator, Tim Scott, who is up for reelection in 2022, voted against it.

‘The need is overwhelming,’ Graham says

Still, Graham said he was holding out hope that there would be “at least some support” among House Republicans for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, so long as it is “not held hostage” by Democrats who may want to tie the bipartisan bill to the bigger $3.5 trillion spending plan.

Graham said the bipartisan effort he signed onto deals with “roads, bridges, ports, broadband — things that we need.” He then urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to lead and “tell the hard left you can’t have your way.”

He also issued a warning to his fellow Republicans, saying that “failure is not an option.”

“If it doesn’t pass, it will be heartbreaking because the need is overwhelming,” Graham said, to nods from mayors and other elected officials seated to his left and right.

Graham said he has not had a chance to take the pulse on how South Carolina’s own congressional members will vote on the infrastructure bill.

“I don’t know where the delegation will be in terms of voting for the bill, but the reason I voted for it is because the regulatory reform I think, will be transformational,” Graham said, noting the bill eliminates some of the red tape that previously slowed necessary road projects.

“The needs of South Carolina are real, and this helps meet those needs,” Graham said.

The state’s transportation department currently gets about $733 million each year in federal road and bridge money, the department has previously said. The Senate-passed infrastructure bill would boost that amount over the next five years by 30%, which means an additional $1 billion for state road and bridge projects.

The White House has said nearly $336 million would also go to South Carolina for improving public transit, $7.5 billion would help add electric vehicle charging stations and $100 million would help expand broadband access.

Another White House report said the bill would also send $15 million to South Carolina to fight wildfires, $18.3 million to protect from cyberattacks, $510 to improve water infrastructure and $161 million for airport infrastructure development.

The bill could get a vote in the House as soon as Thursday.

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