During the current Congress, progress on the construction of Interstate 49 is not certain but could come in one of two forms, Rep. Bruce Westerman told a local audience Tuesday.
Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who represents Arkansas' 4th Congressional District, spoke to the Texarkana USA Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon held in his honor at the First United Methodist Church on East Sixth Street. The appropriation of funds to complete I-49 in Arkansas was one of several local and national topics he touched on in a wide-ranging speech that lasted more than a half-hour.
"There's a couple of opportunities to see something happen on Interstate 49. Nothing is a guarantee, but there's talk about a big infrastructure package. Many people say that if anything can get done in this Congress this year, it would be an infrastructure package, which would be a large package that would address surface transportation and much, much more.
"We're talking waterways. We're talking airports. There's many infrastructure needs all across the country. So that's one opportunity we'll have to try to get something additional happening on Interstate 49. And another one is the surface transportation bill that has to be reauthorized by 2020. There's no guarantee that anything will happen," he said.
Westerman criticized how Congress' prohibition on earmarks—appropriations for specific projects—puts funding decisions in the hands of government agencies, preventing local control. In the case of I-49 funding, the agency in charge would be the Department of Transportation, he said.
"So you can say there's no bias in it when Congress isn't making the decisions where money's being spent, but I would say there's a constitutional argument that it's Congress' duty to say where the money is to be spent.
"And would you rather have me in an open and transparent process arguing before a committee that we need to spend money on Interstate 49 because it's got a national interest, a regional interest and then definitely an interest for this area? Or have a nondescript person working in a cubicle in one of those gray buildings in Washington, D.C., deciding where that money will be spent?" he said.
Westerman touted a health care reform bill he recently filed, titled the Fair Care Act.
"I'm really excited about this bill that we filed. I wanted something that's appealing to both Democrats and Republicans, something that we could provide more access to health care and would be lower cost. And when you get into the current health care system, you find out real quickly that there are a lot of ways we can get more access to care and we can lower cost. The objective of this bill, it had to cover pre-existing conditions, it had to lower cost, and it had to give constituents more access to care and more options," he said.
Westerman criticized what he called "pretty crazy ideas" recently proposed by House Democrats, including an elections reform bill called H.R. 1 and the Green New Deal, a proposal to reform the economy to stop climate change.
He had an optimistic message for the audience.
"I know it's easy to get discouraged if you turn on the news today and see some of the things that are going on and maybe the direction that some people want to take our country. But I also believe there's a solid core of individuals all across this country that understand the type of freedom we have here in America and what that freedom is based on. And they're really working for a brighter future," he said.