U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said Monday he was glad to be back in Springfield after a four-day trip to Washington, D.C.
“D.C. is creepy right now,” DeFazio said.
Pennsylvania Avenue has so few cars you can walk on it, he told The News-Review in a telephone interview. And not far from his D.C. home, police and the National Guard were called in to help disperse crowds at the fish market.
He had traveled to the Capitol to vote in favor of a federal relief package that provides assistance to small businesses and help for rural hospitals struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Representatives entered the House chamber to take their votes on the package in small groups, arranged alphabetically by last name. It took two and a half hours to complete the vote, but that’s no worse a delay than is often caused by other factors, he said.
He said he felt safe enough during the voting process.
“It wasn’t like the last time we voted where they had people in every other seat on the floor watching the debate,” he said.
The Democrats hope to establish proxy voting, which the Republicans oppose. It would allow a couple of representatives to vote on behalf of their colleagues, limiting the number of people who need to enter and speeding the pace of pushing legislation forward.
“I’m hoping we get there soon, because I’ve got bills bottled up in my committee that I’d like to be moving,” DeFazio said.
Chief among those is an infrastructure package that DeFazio said could restore and improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure while creating American jobs that could pull us out of the repeat of the Great Depression he fears we’re headed toward.
When DeFazio talks infrastructure, he has in mind more than construction jobs on highways and bridges. He also wants to build buses and transit vehicles that include manufacturing and high technology jobs. He wants to increase harbor maintenance.
He envisions creation of high speed railways, such as a fast passenger train from Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia.
“If you could get a train to Portland from Eugene in less than three and something hours, two hours and change, a lot of people would take that option as opposed to being on the freeway,” he said.
He also wants to increase access to high speed internet in rural areas. The COVID-19 crisis, during which many people are working from home, has helped illustrate the need for that, he said.
“I mean how are kids going to remote learn in communities that don’t have access to high speed internet?” he said.
DeFazio said the relief package last week should do a better job than the one before it of reaching truly small businesses.
DeFazio said the Democrats wanted small businesses defined in a way that larger businesses couldn’t take advantage of the program, but the Republican-controlled Senate insisted on a definition that includes all businesses with no more than 500 employees at a single location. That is the standard Small Business Administration definition, but it meant some large national corporations with smaller local branches wound up with funds that DeFazio would rather smaller businesses received.
This bill does, however, allocate some funds to the small banks and credit unions that serve many very small businesses. Many of those businesses do not have relationships with the larger banks that snatched up the funding last time around.
The bill also includes funding for hospitals.
“I have been hearing from a lot of my smaller hospitals that they were laying people off and teetering on the edge of solvency, so we know the hospitals needed more money,” DeFazio said.
He said he hopes a recovery bill will come next, but it’s uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes having another bill, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports having one, DeFazio said.
DeFazio would like to see his infrastructure package as part of a recovery package.
“We’re going to be in something that looks more like the Great Depression than the Great Recession. We are going to need major investment, and that’s I think the best and most broadly distributed way we can do it. And it’s an investment for the future of the country,” he said.
DeFazio had high praise for Oregonians’ efforts to combat COVID-19.
“The only tool, the only weapon we had against this thing was social distancing and people staying home. So we did a heck of a job,” he said.