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WASHINGTON — With a new $1 trillion infrastructure law potentially facilitating the distribution of billions of dollars in extra funding for infrastructure projects over the coming years, Republican leaders on the transportation panel in the U.S. House intend to push the Biden administration for input on the law’s implementation.
By using a series of roundtable discussions with stakeholders, some of which have direct connections with infrastructure federal policies, the lawmakers take aim at the White House. They plan to press administration officials on their strategy for pursuing a clean energy future amid rising fuel prices, concerns about inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is leading his caucus’ approach on these oversight matters. The lawmakers’ next stakeholder-policy roundtable is scheduled for April 5.
“Republicans have held roundtables when issues important to our members have surfaced, or when we want to hear timely outside perspectives on critical issues, like supply chain problems, the impacts of vaccination mandates on transportation industries, and the ongoing energy crisis,” Graves told Transport Topics on March 30.
“Oversight is a responsibility that we will continue to take seriously, whether that’s how the infrastructure law is being implemented, or how the administration’s policies are impeding the building of infrastructure, the movement of goods, or America’s energy independence; and considering that the majority controls which issues will or will not be topics for committee hearings, roundtables are just one tool we will use to continue doing our jobs,” he added.
Earlier this year, Graves and his Republican colleagues called on senior White House officials to outline for them their playbook for the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, known as the IIJA. President Joe Biden enacted the law on Nov. 15.
At issue is guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation interpreted to suggest the Biden administration is proposing states prioritize repairs to existing transportation corridors, severe-weather infrastructure resilience, transit and access to walkability with the new influx of infrastructure funds.
Republicans on the Senate side have echoed Graves’ concerns. Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently told the country’s governors to focus on properly implementing the $1 trillion infrastructure law. The Senate leaders, and most of their fellow Republicans, said they were responding to a memorandum the Federal Highway Administration issued pertaining to the law.
“We were disappointed to read the Federal Highway Administration memorandum entitled ‘Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America’ issued on Dec. 16, 2021,” the senators wrote. “Unfortunately, the FHWA memorandum attempts to implement a wish list of policies not reflected in the IIJA. These policies, such as discouraging projects that increase highway capacity and prioritizing projects that advance nonmotorized transportation options, differ from the provisions negotiated and agreed to in the law.”
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Democrats have acknowledged Congress’ oversight role, especially on major policy laws such as the infrastructure package, commonly referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure law. They also continue to highlight potential benefits associated with the new law, such as funds for enhancing freight connectivity, responding to severe weather events and modernizing aviation systems.
“Airports are critical to commerce, our supply chains, and everyday life, helping both passengers and businesses alike thrive,” said Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Rick Larsen of Washington. They are the chairmen of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee, respectively. “Thanks to President Biden and congressional Democrats, the bipartisan infrastructure law is strengthening our aviation infrastructure and helping ensure we remain competitive in the 21st century economy.”