durum file photo

A fistful of green durum from a field near Fort Berthold is near maturity in this file 2020 photo. Durum from northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana is used to make high-quality pasta.

Durum wheat got a center-stage moment on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday afternoon as Congress continues to talk about infrastructure.

North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer said the commodity, which is primarily grown in northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana, is an example of how commodities in rural areas can affect the entirety of the American food supply chain.

“Durum is the wheat that is ground into semolina flour, which is the main ingredient in pasta,” Cramer said. “So if you love cooking spaghetti in your kitchen or ordering penne at your favorite restaurant, you have to get the durum off the field in North Dakota to the elevator, where a train or truck will pick it up and take it to the mill where it would be ground into semolina before getting on another truck or train to the pasta plant, then to the grocery warehouse in another state where it catches a ride to a distribution company or a retailer, before it gets put into a pot of boiling water on its way to your plate in your Manhattan apartment or your favorite Los Angeles restaurant.”

Consumers can’t pick and choose which roads between the durum field and the Manhattan apartment or Los Angeles restaurant get attention, Cramer said. All the roads, bridges and waterways between durum and its destination need to be safe and reliable.

“So not only does the traditional funding formula protect the interests of rural America, it protects all of America,” he said. “The movement of goods and services in support of our economy.”

Cramer’s remarks come as the Republicans and Democrats hash out their differences on vastly different infrastructure plans.

Biden has proposed $2.3 trillion for infrastructure spending, but the plan has been criticized by Republicans not only for its size but also because it includes many items not traditionally considered infrastructure, like community care and affordable housing. There are also lots of “green” initiatives contained in the bill, such as $174 billion to “win” the EV market and $10 billion to create a new Civilian Climate Corps.

Republicans have since unveiled a much skinner proposal at $568 billion, of which $299 billion would be for roads and bridges, $61 billion for public transit systems, $20 billion for rail, and $64 billion for broadband.

Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven said the Republican plan is much more bipartisan than what Democrats have released.

“I believe this framework is the right approach for an infrastructure package as it does not raise taxes and is targeted on improving our roads, bridges, railways, airports, broadband and other traditional public infrastructure,” Hoeven said. “Additionally, it supports using regular order and going through the committee process to reach a bipartisan agreement. As negotiations continue, we’ll work to include energy infrastructure, including carbon capture and sequestration projects, in the package as well. I believe we can get a bipartisan bill and this framework is a good starting point.”

Cramer said Thursday that the Republican plan is a robust one, and in his floor remarks on Wednesday he urged his colleagues to focus on a bipartisan package that will work for rural America.

“I believe we should go big,” he said. “We should aim high. This is a tremendous opportunity to pass a major bill that will benefit our country as a whole and the states we represent,” he said. “We cannot let one of the most bipartisan policy areas in Washington get derailed now because a narrow majority in the Senate decided to pursue partisan, short-sighted goals instead. I am committed to advancing an infrastructure package that is bold, bipartisan, and meets the demands of the moment, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

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