House Panel Ready for Transportation Bill, Rep. Peter DeFazio Says
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WASHINGTON — Comprehensive, multiyear surface transportation legislation is likely to be considered by a U.S. House committee prior to Memorial Day, the chamber’s top transportation policymaker said May 12.
Speaking to reporters outside of the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the panel’s consideration of a five-year reauthorization of mostly highway and transit policy provisions is forthcoming.
DeFazio touted his legislation’s policy reach, which would serve as a pillar of President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure vision for the country. House Democrats’ surface transportation bill would boost federal programs to address climate change, facilitate access to automotive technologies, and approve funds for rural and urban projects.
“States can’t do it on their own,” DeFazio said. “Cities can’t do it on their own. Counties can’t do it on their own. This is a national problem. It’s also an international problem in terms of our competitiveness. So, it is absolutely critical that we move forward with an incredibly robust reinvestment in America’s infrastructure.
“We’re going to do a transformative, 21st century transportation bill. We’re going to deal with climate change, and de-fossilization of surface transportation, which is the largest single contributor to climate change by the United States. We’re going to deal with resilience, in terms of sea level rise, severe weather events,” the chairman added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who addressed reporters alongside DeFazio, confirmed the legislation’s likely timeline entails passage through the chamber prior to July 4.
The surface transportation legislation would update a 2015 highway law, known as the FAST Act, which expires in September. Neither Pelosi nor DeFazio outlined a sustainable source of funding for federal highway programs that would be linked to the legislation. Insufficient revenue from the Clinton-era 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax are projected to eventually fail to meet the Highway Trust Fund’s obligations. The federal fund assists states with highway projects.
At the White House, Biden recently met with congressional leaders to negotiate aspects of the American Jobs Plan. Press Secretary Jen Psaki emphasized the need to proceed urgently on Capitol Hill.
“The world is not waiting for us to work together here, as Democrats and Republicans, to increase our own competitiveness, to invest in the American workforce. And they’re not waiting for the resolution of a leadership fight,” Psaki said May 12. “The stakes are too high not to work together to pass an American Jobs Plan, to invest in infrastructure, and to make us more competitive.”
While most senior congressional Democrats endorse the president’s plan, key Republicans have pushed back due to its size and proposed source of funding. As an alternative to the American Jobs Plan, senior Republican senators have unveiled a nearly $600 billion surface transportation policy framework. Leading the negotiations for the Republicans is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“I think this has to be an all-hands-on-deck endeavor because we really need to get at least half of each one of the [party] conferences to vote for this,” Capito said during an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce May 13. “It’s in [Biden’s] best interest to have us at the table to make a plea, and a pledge for his particular projects.”
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