More updates, this time on the stimulus, from my visit to the Senate today.
First, at a Senate progressive media summit today, Senator Charles Schumer said that he was unhappy about the amount of stimulus money set aside for mass transit and rail. He indicated that several other Senators from highly urbanized states were also unhappy about this portion of the stimulus, and that when the legislation reached the Senate, they would be jointly pushing for an increase in money set aside for mass transit and rail. The current amount for mass transit and rail in the stimulus bill is only $10 billion.
Second, I had a chance to speak to Senator Amy Klobuchar, who sits on the Environment and Public Works committee. I asked her about the $6 billion set aside for high-speed Internet expansion currently provided in the draft of the stimulus bill. She indicated that, in her opinion, $6 billion was not enough. Further, she said that she had spoken with the Appropriations chair on this matter (Senator Daniel Inouye), and was hopeful that broadband funding in the stimulus would be increased.
Also, I asked Senator Klobuchar whether the grants for high-speed Interent access in the stimulus would primarily be given to state and local governments, or to telecommunications companies. I am concerned that if the money was given to telecommunications companies, that broadband access would not be increased. After all, if those companies were not serving rural and other low-access areas in the past, why would they do so during an economic downturn? The Senators response was that she hoped the grants would be given to public / private partnerships of the sort that she thought were previously successful in Minnesota, and also to smaller, rural telecoms through the universal service fund. More on this later on.
So, in two key underfunded areas in the stimulus, mass transit / high speed rail and high speed internet, there appears to be significant support in the Senate for increasing funding. Again, this is good news, and a story that I will continue to follow.