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Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer criticized infrastructure law, now lauds it

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Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer criticized infrastructure law, now lauds it

May 29, 2024 | 9:00 am ET
By Julia Shumway
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Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer criticized infrastructure law, now lauds it
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Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Oregon, participates in a roundtable on homelessness in Oregon City on Jan. 25, 2024. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

As a candidate in 2022, Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer said the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law was “not a benefit” and would see “pennies on the dollar” returned to communities.

But as the U.S. representative of Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Chavez-DeRemer has praised the law and some of the more than $5.2 billion in Oregon-specific investments that have been announced in the past two years.

When the Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier in May that Oregon would receive more than $28 million through the bipartisan infrastructure law to help identify and replace lead service lines, Chavez-DeRemer joined Democratic colleagues in the state’s congressional delegation to applaud the announcement. 

“This is a welcome announcement that will help countless families and businesses across the state access clean drinking water for generations to come,” she said. “I’m glad more federal funding is coming to Oregon under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and I’ll keep working to reinvest Oregonians’ hard-earned tax dollars into much-needed infrastructure projects.”

That’s a change from the pitch Chavez-DeRemer took almost two years ago, when she was vying for the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District. In an April 2022 interview with the editorial board of The Bulletin – which ended up endorsing Chavez-DeRemer in the primary – she said the infrastructure law wasn’t a good use of tax money. 

“Passing that infrastructure plan this last cycle was not a benefit,” she said. “Why? We had just come out of two years of COVID mandates, supply chains were broken, they infused trillions of dollars into the economy and now the inflation’s gone up. What’s going to happen to those dollars? We’re going to see pennies on the dollar come back to these communities. We’ll not see the roads and bridges be built because we’re not going to be able to afford them when we finally get them on the ground.” 

By the time Chavez-DeRemer took office in 2023, she had changed her tune – in a January 2023 press release responding to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Chavez-DeRemer said “certain policies, like the bipartisan infrastructure law, were necessary investments that will continue to pay off.” 

And in March, she took credit for helping secure $1.29 million in funding available because of the infrastructure law so the Bend Municipal Airport could build a permanent air control tower. 

“It’s critical that we keep our airport infrastructure up to date to maintain a resilient supply chain and a healthy economy,” she said at the time. “I’ll continue supporting efforts to utilize funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to invest in Oregon and Oregon’s economy.”

Inflation concerns

She said in a statement Tuesday that as a former Happy Valley mayor, she had concerns two years ago about the pace of inflation. 

“When inflation was rising at a pace not seen in four decades, I was concerned that funding from the infrastructure bill wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of projects due to soaring prices and regulatory delays,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “We measure these issues as mayors, and I’ve now prioritized reducing regulations that prevent funding from getting to the projects that need it. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I’ve secured millions of dollars for infrastructure projects that will help improve communities across the 5th District. I’ll continue working in a bipartisan manner to reinvest Oregonians’ tax dollars back into our state.”

Chavez-DeRemer is far from alone in criticizing the infrastructure law and then praising it. More than 200 Republican members of Congress voted against the measure, including Oregon’s other Republican representative, Cliff Bentz who represents the 2nd Congressional District in eastern Oregon. And several of them have gone on to boast about funding for projects in their districts. Biden slammed those Republicans as having  “no shame”  in a 2022 speech. 

As a member of Congress representing one of the country’s most evenly divided districts, which includes most of Deschutes and Clackamas counties and other areas, Chavez-DeRemer has spent the past year and a half emphasizing her ability to work in a bipartisan manner. That included partnering with Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washington, to advocate for more funding for a federal bridge program that could be tapped for projects like replacing the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Oregon and Washington. She also joined Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation in pushing for federal funding for public transportation.