Agreeing on a framework for an infrastructure policy debate, determining funding levels for federal transportation programs and the consideration of key nominees are among the issues on Congress’ agenda for the upcoming legislative stretch.
When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on April 29, they will look on as the leadership from the House Democrats and President Donald Trump engage in a discussion about the country’s roads and bridges, and ways to pay for improvements. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Trump have expressed an interest in considering long-term infrastructure legislation this year.
Their meeting, which senior aides told Transport Topics is scheduled for April 30, will provide the leaders with the opportunity to set a timeline for achieving a final bill as early as this summer. A White House official confirmed to TT that a meeting has been scheduled.
Neither Pelosi nor Trump has endorsed a funding proposal that would back a comprehensive infrastructure package. Last year, Trump’s 10-year, $1.5 trillion private sector-centric infrastructure package was not endorsed by Republicans in control of the House and Senate.
The chairman of the transportation panel in the House, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), has indicated it would be possible to consider comprehensive infrastructure legislation in the coming months. He scheduled a hearing for May 1 to allow members to “highlight issues of importance as the committee develops its legislative agenda,” according to an advisory. Several transportation policymakers will promote funding proposals at that hearing in an attempt to frame the infrastructure debate, aides familiar with the hearing said.
Democrats say their agenda includes creating millions of “good paying jobs through a real infrastructure plan,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said April 20.
While policy authorizers devote their attention to big-picture connectivity issues, their colleagues on the funding panel are expected to schedule the consideration of a fiscal 2020 transportation appropriations bill. Earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao defended the White House’s fiscal 2020 budget request before House appropriators. The request is 22% less than last year’s enacted level, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Senior Democrats on the funding panel criticized it.
“Twice the administration has proposed cuts that would shortchange our national infrastructure, and twice Congress has responded by passing responsible funding levels,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) told the secretary April 10. “Please do better next time.”
Under the request, FMCSA would receive $288 million for safety operations and programs, and $387.8 million for safety grants, which is higher than the fiscal 2019 enacted level.
Turning to the Republican-led Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continues to emphasize his desire to schedule votes on Trump’s nominees. Heidi King’s nomination to become administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is awaiting confirmation.