March 4, 2019 2:00 PM, EST

Rep. Sam Graves: August Do-or-Die Month for Infrastructure Bill in 2019

Sam Graves "In my opinion, we’re going to have to spend a lot of political capital to do whatever it is we’re going to do,” Rep. Sam Graves said at the AASHTO briefing. (aashtovideo via YouTube)

The leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be on hand to offer guidance when the House Ways and Means panel meets March 6 to discuss the Highway Trust Fund.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), T&I’s chairman and ranking member, respectively, plan to outline a variety of funding options for Congress to choose from in upcoming infrastructure legislation.

Eugene Mulero


Asked how an infrastructure package would be funded, DeFazio told reporters at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conference Feb. 27: “Talk to Richie Neal.” Neal (D-Mass.) is the Ways and Means chairman.

At the same conference, Graves explained every funding option will be up for consideration, including tolling (of which he is not a fan), a vehicle-miles-traveled fee (which he likes), and even an increase in fuel taxes. As he put it, “We are talking about those things trying to figure out which direction we go. In my opinion, we’re going to have to spend a lot of political capital to do whatever it is we’re going to do.”

Revenue from the Clinton-era federal gas and diesel taxes no longer is sufficient to meet the trust fund’s obligations. In a few years, analysts expect the fund to approach insolvency.

Graves also indicated the House’s version likely will be more comprehensive, as policymakers have yet to determine the degree at which the measure would reauthorize transportation programs. (Taking up a separate highway reauthorization bill is a possibility, DeFazio indicated.)

House Republicans also would look to adopt President Donald Trump’s regulatory streamlining vision. And, provisions that would address technological advancements, such as autonomous vehicles, will be included.

On March 6, DeFazio and Graves also will remind Ways and Means time is running out. Graves said the chairman imposed an aggressive, yet doable May deadline for having a bill. The ranking member added that if T&I’s package is not ready by August, lawmakers may miss their window of opportunity this year.

“It’s going to be an exciting year,” Graves said. “We just need to get something done quicker rather than later.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

Richard Trumka


March 6, 10:30 a.m.: Our favorite federal account here at Transport Topics, the Highway Trust Fund, will go under the microscope courtesy of the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s been a long time coming for this panel with jurisdiction over tax matters to evaluate the account’s unsustainable funding predicament. The trust fund is used to assist states with big-ticket construction and maintenance projects, and analysts are projecting its insolvency likely is going to occur in two years. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue are among the witnesses who will tell policymakers to figure out a fix for the fund, such as an increase in fuel taxes. American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear also is scheduled to testify. And before the stakeholders get a hold of the microphones, the chairman and ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), respectively, will share funding guidance.

March 1-6: The National Association of Counties hosts its legislative conference.

March 4, 2 p.m.: The Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosts a discussion titled, “Green Infrastructure: A Blueprint for Climate Resilient Communities.” Participants include Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects; Jalonne White-Newsome, senior program officer for the environment at the Kresge Foundation; Mark Dawson, managing principal at Sasaki Associates Inc.; and Adam Ortiz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

March 5, 10 a.m.: The National Press Club hosts “Review of the 2018 Hurricane Season and Forecast for the Future.” Participants include Gerry Bell, hurricane climate specialist and research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and Jeremy Gregory, research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

March 5, 10 a.m.: The Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee examines air quality.

March 5, 11:30 a.m.: Politico hosts a discussion on environmental sustainability. Speakers include Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); Matthew Lohr, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Ben Grumbles, Maryland Environment Secretary; Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer at Smithfield Foods Inc.; Suzy Friedman, senior agricultural sustainability director at the Environmental Defense Fund; Robert Gibbs, chief communications officer and executive vice president for corporate relations at McDonald’s Corp.; Matt Daily, energy editor of Politico Pro; and Liz Crampton, agriculture reporter at Politico Pro.

March 5, 2 p.m.: The Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosts “Electrification: Options for Consumers and the Environment.” Participants include Gary Connett, chairman of the Beneficial Electrification League; Derek Murrow, senior director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate and Clean Energy Program; Keith Dennis, senior consumer-member engagement director at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; and Barbara Tyran, executive government and external relations director at the Electric Power Research Institute.

March 5, 2:30 p.m.: The Senate Armed Services Committee hosts a closed briefing on U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command.

March 6, 9 a.m.: The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc. hosts a kickoff press conference for the 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival.

March 6, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets to review the economic benefits of highway infrastructure investment and accelerated project delivery.

March 6, 11 a.m.: The House Small Business Committee hosts a hearing titled, “Rebuilding America: Small Business Perspective.” Witnesses include Terri Williams, director of the SBDC Procurement Technical Assistance Center, San Antonio; Tim Donovan, senior vice president for legislative affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, Washington, D.C.; and Roseline Bougher, president of A.D. Marble, King of Prussia, Pa.

FedEx cargo plane

James Wachob via YouTube

March 7, 8 a.m.: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts its 18th annual Aviation Summit. Participants include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao; former Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta; Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines; Alan Pellegrini, CEO of Thales North America; Fred Smith, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp.; Rajesh Subramaniam, CEO of FedEx Express; Brad Tilden, chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group; Jim Barber, chief operating officer at UPS Inc.; Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America; Antonio Campello, CEO of Embraer X; Catherine Dyer, Chief information officer of Air Canada; and Kathleen Wayton, senior vice president and CIO of Southwest Airlines.

March 7, 10 a.m.: The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “The Clean Water State Revolving Fund: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Help Communities Modernize Water Infrastructure and Address Affordability Challenges.”

March 8, 9 a.m.: The Newseum hosts its 21st annual National Freedom of Information Day conference. House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is scheduled to deliver keynote remarks.

March 8, 12:30 p.m.: The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. hosts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Mood Swings

Secretary Chao said she had a meeting with the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. President Trump told governors he’d sign an infrastructure bill. Senate surface transportation policymakers are calling on colleagues to share guidance. House transportation leaders want to have legislation by May. Stakeholders are preparing for Infrastructure Week. Things are kind of looking up.


In Case You Missed It 

The robots are coming, dressed up as FedEx delivery guys.

Who’s New

D.J. Gribbin


From putting together the White House’s ambitious infrastructure policy plan last year, to founding consulting firm Madrus, DJ Gribbin is a classic example of what’s old is new again. T&I Chairman DeFazio has mentioned his name at recent public addresses, basically to remind everybody his plan was not well-received last year (no kidding).

Now, as a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, the DJ has something to say: “In my three decades of work with the federal government, including my time in the White House, I kept running into the same three challenges.”


In January, Citizens Against Government Waste named DeFazio “Porker of the Month” for suggesting the House reinstate its earmarks practice. That didn’t stop DeFazio from touting earmarks at AASHTO’s conference last week. If the earmarks process is reformed, he argued, bridges to nowhere would be bridges to somewhere.

Favorite Video

Kennedy takes a turn at blasting Dems’ Green New Deal.

Favorite Tweet

cc: @galifianakisz

The Last Word

Earlier this month, ranking member [Tom] Carper and I asked the members of our committee for their specific priorities for the surface transportation bill. Those requests are due back in a week, or so. And we will then make the same request to the rest of the Senate.

Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) at AASHTO on Feb. 27.

John Barrasso


We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.