In the News
Nov 09 2021
Ahead of the U.S. House of Representatives final vote on President Joe Biden’s nearly $1 trillion infrastructure package, Rep. Tom Rice said he wasn’t sure how he was going to vote. He was working with other Republicans to make last-minute adjustments to the bill, he said, and was firm that if the Democrats who control the chamber tied Biden’s social spending package to the infrastructure package, he’d vote ‘no.’ By late Friday, Rice had cast one of 206 “nay” votes against the bill, which will provide billions for highways, roads, bridges, transit and broadband connectivity. The bill passed the House 228-206, with 13 Republicans supporting the measure and six Democrats voting against it, one of the final hurdles it had to clear before heading to Biden’s desk for a signature.
Rice’s “no” vote stands out, in part because he had offered his tacit support for the measure as Congress was debating and shaping it. Rice had come out forcefully against Biden’s spending package, but made no such denouncements of the infrastructure package. Additionally, several Republicans in the bipartisan “Problems Solvers Caucus,” which Rice is part of, voted for the bill. So why did Rice vote no?
Ultimately, he said, he was unhappy with the balance of funds that would go toward roads, and the balance that would support transit, like public buses and trains. About half of the nearly $1 trillion bill was funding that the federal government authorizes regularly for infrastructure. But the other half, around $550 billion, would be new spending. Rice argued that of that spending, roughly 60% went to things like public transit, Amtrak and electric buses while only around 40% went to highways and other road projects. Rice said he wanted to an equal or greater amount spent on highways and roads than transit. “If you will up the amount going to highways to be at least equal the amount going to transit and Amtrak I’ll support it,” Rice said he told members of the Biden administration.
“That was the main thing I wanted to spend at least as much on highways because my district doesn’t benefit from transit,” he added. Rice said he would have even supported a package that was more expensive, perhaps up to $2 trillion total, if it included more funding for highways and roads. But the White House, Rice said, wouldn’t agree to his framework, and kept the balance of spending the same. Rice said he took the stance he did because his district benefits very little from public transit and Amtrak, but has great needs for spending on roads and highways. He argued that low-income people in his district typically drive, meaning they’d benefit more from road funding than public transit funding. “It doesn’t help Horry County, and it doesn’t help the poor folks in Marion and Dillon counties,” he said.
That was the reason, he said, he broke with the “Problem Solvers” and voted against the bill. “I wanted to join them, I just felt like I could not in good conscience ask my people to support something that was so heavily weighted against them,” Rice said. Ahead of Friday’s vote, Rice was courted by builders and others in the construction and infrastructure sectors, trying to win his support. He said a group from the construction industry wrote to him asking for his support, and a national lobbying group included him on a list of lawmakers they were targeting with radio advertisements to win his support.
Rice also criticized Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration for not shaping and passing the infrastructure bill with more support from Republicans. Similar bills in the past, Rice argued, passed with nearly universal support in the House of Representatives, meaning the final package should have been less partisan and controversial. “Infrastructure should be non controversial, everybody wants infrastructure, Republicans and Democrats,” Rice said. “That was a partisan exercise. The Biden administration tried as hard as they could to pass it with only Democratic votes and that’s no way to run a country.”
Still, Rice said, the infrastructure bill will likely mean significant funding for I-73. Included in the bill is $110 billion for highway construction, which states like South Carolina will be able to apply for to fund projects like I-73. Once state and local funding is committed to building the new interstate highway, Rice said, the South Carolina Dept. of Transportation could apply to the federal government to fund the rest of the project, a framework Rice said he supports. “This road is going to get built,” he said. “The question is when.”