The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Susan Collins that aired Sunday, June 13, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: Now for a discussion about matters back here at home. A bipartisan group of senators announced a new infrastructure package last week that would cost $1.2 trillion over eight years. One member of the group is Senator Susan Collins, who joins us from Bangor, Maine. Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): Good morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: So the official talks between the White House and Republicans had broken down. You’re now a part of a group that says you have an agreement. Why will your agreement work where the previous one- previous negotiations failed?
SEN. COLLINS: Well, first, I want to give credit to Senator Capito, who led the previous negotiations, because she certainly advanced the ball. Where ours is different is, first of all, it’s bipartisan. We have five Republicans and five Democrats who got together to hammer out the framework for a targeted, responsible infrastructure package. One way that it differs is that it includes provisions for resiliency, for strengthening the materials that we use to build our roads and bridges and to strengthen our electrical infrastructure. It includes some energy provisions that are important to the administration and to many of our members as well.
JOHN DICKERSON: And what about the sticky question of how to pay for all of this? What- where does it- I’ve heard there’s reports that it might include a gas tax increase?
SEN. COLLINS: There won’t be a debt- a gas tax increase, and we won’t be undoing the 2017 tax reform bill. Let me talk about three of the pay-fors. One is the implementation of an infrastructure financing authority that’s very similar to the state revolving funds that we used for sewer and water projects. And it’s a bipartisan proposal that was first put forth by Senators Mark Warner and Roy Blunt, as second would be to repurpose some of the COVID funding that has not been spent in the $1.9 trillion package that was enacted in March. There were restrictions on what the funding could be used for. It could be used for water, sewer and broadband. We would make it more flexible so it could be used for infrastructure projects. And third, there would be a provision for electric vehicles to pay their fair share of using our roads and bridges. Right now, they are literally free riders because they’re not paying any gas tax. So those are three of the provisions that we’ve taken a look at.
JOHN DICKERSON: One of the objections to taking back some of the money that was in the COVID relief plan is that some of the states have really benefited. They’ve done- they’ve done much better than they thought they would. Their tax receipts are up, but that’s not true of all states. And so some states are saying you can’t take away this money that’s helping us recover from covid to then use it for infrastructure.
SEN. COLLINS: Well, I’ve talked to governors who are enthusiastic about the prospect, and when you have a state like California which has an enormous surplus, and yet we’re giving billions of additional dollars to that state, I think we can find room to repurpose some of this money. In addition, if you look at what has been spent, there is literally hundreds of billions of dollars in the pipeline, going back to the initial Cares Act that was passed in March of last year. We have put an enormous amount of money, and rightfully so, into fighting COVID. Last year we had five bipartisan bills, and this year President Biden added another $1.9 trillion dollars. That included a lot of funding that was not directly for fighting COVID
JOHN DICKERSON: If- in this bill, a lot of what’s falling out of the president’s priorities on child care and on elder care, is that right?
SEN. COLLINS: We’re focusing on the traditional infrastructure definition: roads, bridges, airports, seaports, waterways, highways,–
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask–
SEN. COLLINS: –broadband, and I think that makes sense.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask, leaving aside the word infrastructure for a moment, the argument the president and his supporters make is that in today’s economy, particularly for women who’ve borne a greater share of the burden when it comes to child care and elder care, that if you don’t provide help for those kinds of things, they are as much of an impediment to those women having a shot at the American dream and being in the American workforce as any infrastructure program. Do you agree- leaving the word infrastructure apart, do you agree with that premise that there are those barriers?
SEN. COLLINS: I do think we need to take a look at barriers to the workforce, at the need for more home health care. There’s no one who’s been a bigger advocate of home health care than I have been. And we also have to learn lessons from the pandemic that we can use, for example, telemedicine to reach people in an effective way. But we need to reimburse for that. So we can look at these issues, but they are not infrastructure and they should be considered separately. And I believe they will be.
JOHN DICKERSON: And what the opponents, of course, of your position would say is the reason to consider them infrastructure is that if you say we’ll leave it for another day, is that that- that other day never comes and that the reason to try and put them in this bill is to force focusing on issues that are vital to a certain portion of the public. You don’t buy that argument?
SEN. COLLINS: Well, first of all, I think these issues are important, and that’s why, for example, in the 2017 Tax Reform Act, we made the child tax credit refundable for the first time and we took advantage of a tax incentive to expand the incentive and the help that you would get if you’re taking care of elderly relative or a child. We put money in the COVID bills to expand child care centers. And I’ve seen YMCAs right here in Bangor, Maine, expand their child care programs. So I think we need to look at what is out there. But there is no doubt that this is an area where we need to look at our reimbursement. We need to look at our child care development fund and we need to look at the tax code. And I think we can and should do that.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me move on to the question of a New York Times report this week that said that during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice subpoenaed some information from Apple that uncovered the accounts of two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. You’re on the Senate Intelligence Committee. What does that report- what’s your reaction to that report?
SEN. COLLINS: There are two serious allegations here. One has to do with whether or not there was a leak of classified information by members of Congress. But the second, which is also important is, has the Justice Department abused its power by going after members of Congress or the press for partisan, political- political purposes? And that’s why I support the deputy attorney general’s request that the inspector general of the Department of Justice do an in-depth investigation of both of these issues. That is really important.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you another intelligence related question. You recently helped legislation get passed that would- that would treat victims of so-called Havana syndrome. These are the US officials working in Cuba who were attacked by some kind of- of weapon. There are speculation among officials that the Russians are behind that weapon. Do you feel that that’s sufficiently true that President Biden should bring it up in his meeting with President Putin this week?
SEN. COLLINS: Certainly the Russians are one of the key suspects. We don’t know for sure, but keep in mind there have been more than a hundred American public servants who have been injured by these directed energy attacks. And we need not only to take care of their medical needs, but also to find out who it is.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator,–
SEN. COLLINS: I think that Secretary Blinken has done a great job as secretary of state, but I hope the president will bring up this issue with Sec- with President Putin directly.
JOHN DICKERSON: Excellent. And we’re out of time. Senator Collins, thank you so much for being with us. And we’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.