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May 28, 2020 1:00 PM, EDT

Democrats Push Pandemic Aid, Highlight Infrastructure Package

Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi by Saul Loeb/Pool via Associated Press

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House Democrats signaled the potential for unveiling a comprehensive infrastructure measure in the near-term as they continue to push Senate leaders to consider a pandemic relief bill that would provide $15 billion for highway programs.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team on May 27 called on top Senate Republicans to take up a recently passed $3 trillion stimulus bill. That House bill included the aid for highways, as well as billions of dollars for transit systems and aspects of the supply chain.

“There is a drumbeat that says we need to do more. They need to do more. So, I don’t — my interest is with the message the American people send the Republicans in the Senate that it’s time, that we cannot take a pause,” the speaker said, adding Democrats “hope to bring up soon” a highly anticipated infrastructure bill.

House Democrats’ efforts on long-term infrastructure legislation are endorsed by senior Democrats in the Senate. “There’s strong bipartisan support for roads, bridges, transit systems to improve connectivity through the digital divide on broadband,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said recently. “That would not only create jobs, but at the end of the day, we’re going to have a more resilient society.”

In January, Pelosi’s caucus proposed $329 billion for highway programs as part of a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure policy blueprint. That policy vision also outlined $105 billion for transit systems, $86 billion for investments in broadband, $60.5 billion for wastewater and other water infrastructure programs, and $55 billion for rail networks. The blueprint, however, stopped short of recommending a long-term source of funding for highway projects.

With the Senate returning June 1, the chamber’s leader, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, recently told reporters there is a possibility for his chamber to provide pandemic relief. Pushing ahead with another stimulus has been touted by Republicans facing tough re-election contests. This year, Congress has approved trillions of dollars for institutions and sectors.

Mitch McConnell

McConnell

“It’ll be very carefully crafted. It won’t be $3 trillion left-wing wish list like the House cobbled together the other day,” the senator said May 26. Days earlier, he took aim at the Democrats’ agenda.

“I understand they’ve convened for legislative session a grand total of two days in the past eight weeks,” McConnell said May 21. “It’s not just their physical absence. It’s House Democrats’ absence from any serious discussions at all. About the only product to emerge from their lengthy sabbatical has been an 1,800-page, $3 trillion messaging bill that couldn’t even unite their own conference.”

McConnell has not scheduled consideration for a multiyear infrastructure package. On his radar are Trump administration nominations, fiscal 2021 government funding measures, and authorizing policy bills on military affairs, water infrastructure and surface transportation.

White House officials acknowledge a need to act to restore the economy and assist the health care sector amid the pandemic. On infrastructure policy, the White House has been silent after President Donald Trump suggested a few times in March and April borrowing $2 trillion to rebuild highways and bridges.

Meanwhile, stakeholders across the transportation landscape urge Congress for financial assistance. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicated it has advocated for assistance for businesses, families and communities. Amtrak, associations representing airlines, the motorcoach sector, manufacturers and state transportation departments continue to call for assistance.

AASHTO logo

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, for instance, indicated $50 billion in federal emergency assistance would ensure agencies keep operating without disruptions. Fuel tax revenues used for highway projects have dropped due to low traffic volumes.

American Trucking Associations, which proposed the adoption of a fund that would rely on a 20-cents-per-gallon fee on motor fuels collected at the wholesale rack, is advocating for infrastructure funding on Capitol Hill.

ATA Executive Vice President of Advocacy Bill Sullivan recently said, “As both parties come together to evaluate and negotiate a new package, we hope that a bipartisan, sustainable solution is achievable.”

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