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January 7, 2019 4:00 PM, EST

Capitol Agenda for the Week of Jan. 7: The DeFazio Era Begins

New House speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) with Rep. Peter DeFazio (right) New House speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) with Rep. Peter DeFazio (right) by Alex Brandon/AP

In 1986, actor Kurt Russell found himself in “Big Trouble in Little China.” Larry Bird earned the league’s most valuable player honor as he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship. The “Amazing” Mets won the World Series. And in Washington, it was all about Iran-Contra.

The year also was significant for a former congressional aide originally from Massachusetts who had moved to Oregon for graduate studies. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, was elected to Congress, kicking off what would be a storied career marked by big legislative wins in health care, environmental policy and social welfare. After three-plus decades spent roaming the halls of Congress, he has earned a reputation as a witty, independent-minded lawmaker with a strong grasp of policy and process, able to collaborate or clash with members of either party with ease.

DeFazio in 1995

DeFazio in 1995 (AP)

Despite a lengthy resume, DeFazio continues to chase a rather elusive policy goal: a long-term infrastructure bill marked by sustainable funding.

After President Bill Clinton signed off on a gas tax increase in 1993 to boost funding for highway projects, Congress and a trio of presidents have not revisited that funding approach. Instead, they relied on short-term and not-so-short-term funding fixes for the federal highway account.

DeFazio has been preaching the infrastructure funding gospel for years, and, thus far, has been unsuccessful in his quest to convince colleagues to back a measure that would provide sustainable funding guarantees for transportation officials around the country.

As recently as the last Congress, DeFazio, as top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, sought bipartisan support for bills designed to ensure sustainable funding for highway projects. Those bills, however, would not see the light of day in a committee markup.

Now, as he takes over as committee chairman, his first order of business (after launching investigations into the Trump administration) will be — you guessed it — to move a long-term infrastructure package. That package, he has explained, would propose the launch of a national pilot on a vehicle miles traveled fee, enhancing transit projects to reduce highway congestion, promoting resilient infrastructure that responds to climate change, and ensuring sustainable funding for big-ticket projects. If a fuel tax increase is among the proposals, the tax-writing Ways and Means panel would be called in to help.

Relying mostly on the private sector to fix the country’s roads and bridges, also known as President Donald Trump’s 2018 infrastructure plan, is an approach DeFazio said he won’t allow.

On Jan. 4, when the DeFazio era at T&I officially got under way, the new chairman reiterated his mission statement: “The president promised $1.5 trillion of investment in infrastructure. But so far he has proposed actually cutting infrastructure or privatizing the entire system. That won’t work.”

He added, “We need significant, real proposals that’ll move us toward a more efficient, 21st century transportation network in all modes: in rail, in maritime, and, obviously, in freight movement and people movement on the highways and transit to get people out of their cars and give them new options.”

THE WEEK AHEAD (all times EST):

Jan. 8, 10 a.m.: The American Petroleum Institute hosts a conference call to preview the “State of American Energy 2019” report.

Jan. 9, 8:30 a.m.: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration hosts its Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee.

Jan. 10, 9 a.m.: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosts a meeting of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee’s Mobile Sources Technical Review Subcommittee.

Jan. 10, 9 a.m.: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts its “The State of American Business” news conference with its president and CEO Thomas Donohue, and executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley.

Jan. 10, 9 a.m.: The Brookings Institution and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center host a conference on “Ten Years Later: Lessons from the 2008 Financial Crisis.” Former Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag is scheduled to deliver a keynote address.

Jan. 10, 12:15 p.m.: The National Economists Club hosts a luncheon discussion titled, “Recipe for Recession in 2019.” Former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin is scheduled to participate.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

GOLDEN STATE: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Dec. 21 determined that federal rest-break laws pre-empt California’s separate meal-and-rest-break requirements, handing a victory to trucking industry groups.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Dec. 26 announced it has issued a five-year exemption to Stoneridge Inc. to allow its aftermarket MirrorEye mirrorless digital camera and sensor system to be installed on trucks and motorcoaches as an alternative to traditional mirrors.

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Hope is a good thing.

Forbes article

BUZZ:

Observations from insiders: The longer the shutdown, the longer the wait on the White House’s infrastructure agenda.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

We could reopen much of government where there’s no dispute over issues involving certain departments like [Agriculture], Transportation, Housing [and Urban Development], and Interior. Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue.

— Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Meet the Press on Jan. 6.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins

FAVORITE VIDEO:

Ain't quittin'.

FAVORITE TWEET:

Shutdown politics.

Thanks for reading Capitol Agenda. We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.