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July 25, 2022 4:17 PM, EDT

Semiconductor Bill Passes Senate, Awaits House Vote

Capitol Agenda by Eugene Mulero

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Legislation designed to assist semiconductor manufacturers and improve the flow of freight across the nation’s supply chains advanced in the Senate on July 27.

On a 64-33 vote, senators sent the bill to the House, where Democratic leaders there intend to consider it prior to the August recess. The legislation is expected to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. The White House has endorsed the bill.

Specifically, the semiconductor “chips and science” bill would dedicate $54 billion in grants for domestic manufacturers as well as access to industry resources.
During floor debate, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called on colleagues to support the bill.

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Cantwell

“We have a chip shortage today, and it’s costing our economy and it’s increasing inflation,” Cantwell said.

“We know that there is going to be a chip demand that is going to be threefold from where we are today in the very near future,” she added. “So that means if we don’t start building here, we’re not going to catch up. But more importantly, is the national security elements of making sure that the United States is making the most advanced semiconductors.”

House Republicans Press Buttigieg on IIJA Implementation

Some aspects of the Biden administration’s guidance relating to the implementation of the $1 trillion infrastructure law lacks clarity. That was a message Republicans on the U.S. House transportation panel shared with Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

During a hearing with the policymakers last week, the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Sam Graves, expressed criticism over information Buttigieg’s team provided the states about the law. At issue is a memorandum the Federal Highway Administration distributed last year with guidance for implementing the law’s provisions.

“One ongoing concern for me and many others is the Dec. 16, 2021, Federal Highway Administration guidance memo,” Graves (R-Mo.) observed. “Mr. Secretary, I know that you’ve spoken about some of the concerns raised since this guidance was issued.

“I hope you recognize the fact that it remains a serious source of concern and confusion because it pushes the administration’s own priorities, including a bias against adding new highway capacity, over what’s written in the law itself.”

Republican transportation leaders say they have interpreted the FHWA memo as suggesting the administration proposes that states prioritize fixing existing corridors, as well as severe-weather resilience projects, transit systems and active transportation modes with funds from the new infrastructure law.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

DeFazio

Democrats, however, defended the administration’s role in offering such guidance. Transportation committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) stressed that perspective.

“We want people just to think these things through. It’s not a mandate but think about it as you move forward, instead of, you know, doing the same thing again and again and again, which doesn’t work,” the chairman argued. “We induce more demand. We build more lane miles. We induce more demand. We build more lane miles. And we end up with the same congestion in the end.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was enacted Nov. 15. Administration leaders often referred to it as the bipartisan infrastructure law.

DeFazio’s sentiment was echoed by Buttigieg, who defended the memo’s guidance. The FHWA memo, titled, “Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America,” says, “This guidance is intended to serve as an overarching framework to prioritize the use of [bipartisan infrastructure law] resources on projects that will build a better America.”

Buttigieg Testimony 71922 by Transport Topics on Scribd

Per the memo, “The intent of the guidance also is to ensure that the funding and eligibilities provided by the [bipartisan infrastructure law] will be interpreted and implemented, to the extent allowable under statute, to encourage states and other funding recipients to invest in projects that upgrade the condition of streets, highways and bridges and make them safe for all users, while at the same time modernizing them so that the transportation network is accessible for all users, provides people with better choices across all modes, accommodates new and emerging technologies, is more sustainable and resilient to a changing climate, and is more equitable.”

At the congressional hearing, Buttigieg also pointed to about $80 billion, approved by the law, that is being dedicated for projects nationwide. Those projects, he said, aim to improve connectivity at supply chain corridors, respond to climate change concerns and modernize aging bridges, ports and tunnels. Investments in automated and electric vehicles also are backed by the law.

The IIJA’s big-picture impact was a theme Buttigieg shared with the panel.

“From delays at ports, to freight congestion, to shortages in aviation, American transportation has rarely confronted this many intersecting challenges at once, both immediate and entrenched,” the secretary said. “Nearly 43,000 people died in traffic crashes last year — each of them a parent or child, colleague or friend. Transportation produces more carbon emissions than any other sector, at a time when the nations of the world are rallying to confront the climate challenge,” Buttigieg added. “As Americans grapple with the effects of inflation, we know transportation is the second-largest household expense after housing, affecting every family budget.”

America is innovative, the secretary insisted, and rebuilding infrastructure is among its priorities.

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

July 26, 9 a.m.: PunchBowl News discusses supply chains with Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves.

Kyrsten Sinema

Sinema

July 26, 4 p.m.: The Washington Post hosts a discussion on semiconductors with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

July 27, 9:45 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considers nominees for roles at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

July 27, 2:30 p.m.: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell hosts a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

Freight Corridor

It's getting hot in here.

Legislative Docket

Bost

Bost

Legislation designed to increase parking access for truck drivers nationwide was easily approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure panel on July 20. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act would dedicate funding for transportation agencies to build or expand safe parking areas for commercial motor vehicles. Specifically, the bill would incrementally provide agencies nearly $800 million through fiscal 2026. According to the bill, its purpose is to “provide parking for commercial motor vehicles and improve the safety of commercial motor vehicle operators.”

Buzz

President Joe Biden recently nominated Shailen Bhatt to lead the Federal Highway Administration. As administrator, Bhatt would lead an agency tasked with overseeing an influx of $350 billion for highway systems. The funding was approved in the infrastructure law. Bhatt’s career includes stints as executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation and Cabinet secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation, per background the White House provided. His confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled in the U.S. Senate.

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The Last Word

FMCSA’s core mission is safety, and we’re proud to make investments that support the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ambitious goal of zero fatalities on our roadways.

FMCSA Deputy Administrator Robin Hutcheson on July 20

Robin Hutcheson

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session and add updates throughout the week. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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