Capito to focus on infrastructure, energy in first speech

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito plans to use her first floor speech in the U.S. Senate to advocate for infrastructure improvements, health care programs for veterans and children and energy policies that are favorable for the state’s coal and natural gas industries.

Capito, R-W.Va., is set to deliver her maiden speech at 11:30 a.m. today. The speech is a tradition for freshmen senators, who use it as an opportunity to detail some of the priorities they would like to tackle in Congress.

In a Monday interview with the Daily Mail, Capito said her speech will in part be a reflection on things she’s heard from voters during her recent Senate campaign, as well as during the 14 years she spent representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Capito also said she’ll use the speech to encourage colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and move beyond the partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington, D.C., politics in recent years.

“The first thing to do is to get the Senate working again, to find solutions where we can agree and begin to solve the different problems that are in front of us,” Capito said. “It’s been so gridlocked here. There’s been a lot of frustration and West Virginians are wondering, ‘Why aren’t these people doing their jobs?’”

While Capito said there are several broad topics Congress needs to address, including national security policies, reining in debt and balancing the federal budget and reforming the Affordable Care Act, she wants to focus her speech on four areas where lawmakers should be able to reach bipartisan agreements that will help improve the nation.

“It’s not an exclusive list, but things that I think are doable, and important,” she said.

First would be to pass a new, six-year national transportation infrastructure spending bill.

In recent years, Congress has passed several short-term, stopgap measures to keep funding the nation’s highway system. While that has kept money flowing, Capito said the temporary nature of those plans has hindered the ability of state infrastructure planners to move forward with major, multi-year projects.

“If you look at Corridor H or Route 35 or the Coalfields Expressway, all of those projects are on the board but (state transportation officials) can’t do them without a robust, six-year robust highway bill,” Capito said. “You can’t plan it in the 16 to 18 month increments that we’ve been asking them to do.”

The second area Capito looks to target is increasing broadband access throughout rural America.

A recent Federal Communications Commission study found 56 percent of state residents now lack access to adequate high-speed broadband. That number increases to 74 percent when focuses solely on rural parts of the state.

“If we’re going to be in the 21st Century economy, (broadband access) is as important as water, electricity and a road,” Capito said.

Capito will also target health care matters in her speech. Rather than focusing on the Affordable Care Act, which was a key target of her campaign, she’ll use her speech to target two specific health care related topics. The first would be implementing improvements in the Departments of Veterans Affairs’ health care system to improve access and reduce wait times for veterans. The second would be maintaining funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which served more than 30,000 West Virginia children in the last year.

“If we’re going to have good, productive citizens, we need to keep them healthy and well-educated,” Capito said.

Finally, she will advocate for a comprehensive, “common sense” approach to national energy policy that embraces research and development in coal technologies and promotes development of the state’s natural gas industry.

Capito also said the U.S. should focus on building more oil pipelines, such as the Keystone XL, which was approved by Congress earlier this year but vetoed by President Barack Obama. Capito said the recent oil train derailment in Fayette County, as well as subsequent incidents in Illinois and Ontario, Canada, highlight the dangers of shipping oil by rail.

“That’s where I think the development of Keystone and other pipelines is something we need to focus on — not just for economic development but for the safety,” she said.

Capito will also highlight the fact that she’s the state’s first female senator during the speech. She called that distinction an honor, saying she’s just one of 46 women to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. She said she hopes to inspire other women to run for office across the country.

“Twenty-four states have still yet to elect a woman (to the Senate),” Capito said. “There’s currently 20 of us in the Senate. We get along very well together, across party lines. I hope this will be an inspiration for generations to come, that some other women will follow very quickly.”

Though she’s been in the Senate for just a few months, Capito has already been selected to key leadership positions. She was appointed counsel to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the only freshman senator to be selected for McConnell’s leadership team. She was also tapped for the Senate Republican Whip Team.

She was named to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and is in charge of that committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee. She is also a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which develops infrastructure and environmental policy, and leads that committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee.

In addition to co-sponsoring the Senate’s Keystone pipeline bill, Capito has also helped introduce legislation to help veterans transition from active duty back into society and improves access to mental health and suicide prevention resources. She teamed with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to introduce a bill that targets heroin and methamphetamine trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border.

She is also one of a bipartisan team of 12 senators that has introduced a bill aimed at preventing sexual assaults on college campuses, as well as ensuring victims’ rights and timely reporting of incidents by campus officials.

Capito’s speech is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. The senator’s office plans to live stream the speech on her YouTube page at www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGPT9B_fpac.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4836.

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