December 6, 2021 3:00 PM, EST

Senate Sprints to Legislative Finish as DeFazio Era Ends Next Year

Capitol Agenda by Eugene Mulero

The end-of-the-year congressional rush is officially here.

Democrats in the majority in the Senate are considering a nearly $2 trillion House-passed social infrastructure budget package that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) intends to wrap up by Christmas.

This package, titled the Build Back Better Act, is a pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda as it aims to reinforce aspects of the country’s social safety net.

Specific to transportation, the budget package would propose $600 million for the Maritime Administration to reduce congestion at ports. It also would provide the U.S. Department of Transportation $300 million for developing and applying low-emission aviation technologies. And, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would receive nearly $50 million for states to ensure equity in traffic safety enforcement.

Yellen Letter by Transport Topics on Scribd

Schumer, who has yet to unify his caucus on the budget measure, argued, “The Build Back Better Act will support the American people at every stage of their life and help small businesses grow and stay competitive for decades to come.”

In the meantime, Congress is tasked with addressing a federal debt limit that is fast approaching.

Meanwhile, on the House side, the transportation community was hit with the announcement from longtime transportation committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who said he would not seek re-election next year. The lawmaker was elected to Washington in the mid-’80s and, in addition to his vast transportation policy portfolio, has contributed input to health care, financial services and national security legislation.

Rep. Peter DeFazio

Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

“I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have worked tirelessly on behalf of Oregonians and all Americans. I especially want to thank my wife, Myrnie Daut, whose strength, encouragement and counsel has made my career possible,” he said Dec. 1. He cited the recent passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure policy law among his legislative achievements.

And, don’t worry, he’s not done yet.

“I still have a lot of work to do in my remaining 13 months, and I’ll be putting all of my efforts into that work, including helping to pass the Build Back Better Act that will bring down costs for families, create jobs, fight the climate crisis and help Americans get ahead.”

I’ll be putting all of my efforts into … helping to pass the Build Back Better Act.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio

His departure opens up a path toward the chairmanship for two senior Democrats on the panel: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.). Of course, Democrats would need to retain their majority status for either one to gain control of the gavel. Republicans are vying for the chamber’s leadership, and the top Republican on the transportation panel is Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri.

The Week Ahead (All times Eastern)

Dec. 7, 10 a.m.: The Senate Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight and Ports Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Uncharted Waters: Challenges Posed by Ocean Shipping Supply Chains.” Witnesses include John Butler, CEO of the World Shipping Council; Greg Regan, president of Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Paul Doyle, CEO of Coastal Automotive; Norman Krug, CEO of Preferred Popcorn.

John Hickenlooper


Dec. 7, 12:30 p.m.: Axios hosts a panel titled, “1 Big Thing: The Infrastructure Bill’s Climate Future.” Speakers include Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines.

Dec. 7, 12:30 p.m.: The Bipartisan Policy Center hosts a panel titled, “Scaling America’s Clean Energy Infrastructure.”

Dec. 8, 9 a.m.: Washington Post Live hosts a discussion with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

Dec. 9, 10 a.m.: The House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee meets for a hearing on passenger rail. Watch the hearing here.

Freight Corridor

On the road again.

Legislative Docket


Congress averted a partial U.S. government shutdown by passing a stopgap funding measure. Enacted into law by Biden, it extends funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the rest of the federal apparatus through Feb. 18. The short-term funding law also provides $7 billion for Afghanistan evacuees.

“While this short-term measure is needed to avoid a government shutdown, we must use this additional time to enact a bipartisan, bicameral omnibus appropriations bill, which is the only way to provide certainty and support to working families, small businesses, veterans and our military,” said Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). “With a new deadline of Feb. 18, there is ample time for Republicans to join us for bipartisan, bicameral appropriations negotiations.”


Senate Republican leaders are on the same page when it comes to their opposition to the Build Back Better Act. In pushing back on the nearly $2 trillion budget package, GOP leaders have been consistent and persistent.

For example:

Mitch McConnell


Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted, “What is remarkable is that the Democrats want to spend all these trillions but not leave citizens with any impressive, enduring new national project in return.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said, “I think the best Christmas present for the American people would be to block these increased taxes and block this bill that causes more inflation.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) observed, “The big agenda item for Democrats for the rest of the year continues to be passing their partisan Build Back Better tax-and-spending spree, which means Americans will be able to look forward to further inflation and a weaker economy, not to mention increased government control of their decision-making.”

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The Last Word

The pandemic put a strain on our society and by working together, we are able to overcome issues and keep important public works projects moving forward.

Morteza Farajian, executive director of the Build America Bureau, on Nov. 29

Morteza Farajian

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