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McConnell praises federal infrastructure bill during a visit to Covington

Sen. Mitch McConnell stand behind podium, flanked by people in suits in front of a blue background
Tana Weingartner
Sen. Mitch McConnell visited the Life Learning Center in Covington Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) traveled to the northern portion of his home state Monday. He was there to celebrate a grant to increase addiction treatment services, but the focus of media questions turned to the passage late last week of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with bipartisan support.

Locally, the bill could mean funding will finally be provided to build a companion to the existing I-75/71 Brent Spence Bridge.

McConnell said he was delighted the infrastructure bill passed.

"This will be the first time I've come up here in a quarter of a century when I thought maybe there was a way forward on the Brent Spence Bridge," McConnell joked.

"Kentucky - at least in parts of this - is going to get $4.6 billion in assistance for hard infrastructure. How to divide that will be decided in Frankfort," he added.

While optimistic about the infrastructure bill, McConnell is less enthused with the president's Build Back Better initiative.

"The other bill they're trying to pass could best be described as the reckless tax and spending bill," he lamented. "I don't think the American people are interested in seeing this go any further. Infrastructure, however, enjoys a 75% approval rating, passed on a bi-partisan basis, and I think it was the right thing to do."

McConnell was the only member of Kentucky’s Republican congressional delegation to vote in favor of the measure when the Senate passed it in August. Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, of Louisville, also voted in favor of it.

Kentucky can expect to receive more than $5 billion from the federal package, including $4.6 billion for highway programs and $438 million for bridge replacement and repairs.

McConnell said states would largely determine how to divvy up the money.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Taylor Mill and chair of the Kentucky Senate budget committee, said the state will likely have to pay for some of the Brent Spence Bridge project, but lawmakers are still waiting for specifics.

“There’s a lot of optimism this will go a long way to making that happen,” McDaniel said.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he talked to McConnell about the bill after its passage and said it would help fund necessary projects.

“This is what we’re supposed to do, come together so we can do the right things for the people of Kentucky,” Beshear said in a video statement on Saturday.

McConnell voted in favor of the infrastructure bill this summer despite pressure from former President Donald Trump.

Trump issued a statement on Sunday criticizing Republicans who supported the measure and singling out McConnell.

“All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves, in particular Mitch McConnell, for granting a two month stay which allowed the Democrats time to work things out at our Country’s, and the Republican Party’s, expense!,” Trump wrote.

McConnell said he isn’t worried about the Republican Party splitting due to the former president, saying “elections going forward are about the present, not the past.”

He said he’s optimistic about Republicans’ chances of winning control of the House and Senate during midterm elections next year.

“I think the key to ‘22 is to have a discussion with the American people about the new administration, the Democratic Congress and what they’re doing. I think the election will be about the future and not the past,” McConnell said.

When asked if he was concerned the infrastructure bill would spend too much money, McConnell said the spending will be worth it.

“It’s largely paid for, it’s a lot closer to being paid for than anything we did last year on a bipartisan basis responding to the 100-year pandemic. We all agreed, this is the time when you need to go into debt when you have a 100-year pandemic,” McConnell said.

McConnell was speaking in Covington where St. Elizabeth Healthcare announced the addition of services to the Life Learning Center next year as part of an expansion of the Journey Recovery Center which treats substance use disorders.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.
Ryland Barton is WFPL's Managing Editor for Collaboratives.