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September 16, 2019 3:00 PM, EDT

US Chamber Leader Tom Donohue Hopeful About Infrastructure Bill’s Passage

Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue says that it's possible to get an infrastructure bill passed before the end of the year, but there isn't a moment to waste.(CNBC via YouTube)

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Finally, a window of opportunity has opened up for Congress to act meaningfully on a federal infrastructure measure, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue indicated Sept. 16.

At the organization’s Washington headquarters for a press conference to outline policy priorities, Donohue referred to the highway legislation the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had passed in July as “half of an infrastructure bill.”

Eugene Mulero

Mulero

“What I mean by half: It’ll give you roads, bridges and some light rail and get going on it right now,” he explained. “But it’s going to require some quick movement before the end of the year.”

“I’m very hopeful we can sneak this under the finish line,” he added.

The chamber is among the stakeholders on record supporting a fuel tax hike to fund transportation infrastructure priorities.

Yet, Donohue’s sentiment notwithstanding, congressional leaders have been slow to show quick movement on infrastructure policy during President Donald Trump’s tenure.

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Missing from the EPW panel’s reauthorization of surface transportation programs are the contributions from the freight and tax-writing committees. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to address myriad concerns across the trucking and rail industries. The Senate Finance Committee should at least indicate its intention with the Highway Trust Fund.

The fund, which relies on insufficient revenue from fuel taxes to assist states with projects, is on a path toward insolvency.

In February, at an event at the chamber, Donohue publicly urged Congress and the White House to work on infrastructure policy. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was at that event, and he signaled the potential for advancing a dynamic infrastructure measure. But after months of back-and-forth, negotiations between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump collapsed.

People around the country have shown that they are willing to pay to get out of congestion.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

Rep. Peter DeFazio

DeFazio, whose panel is expected to legislate on comprehensive infrastructure policy, reflected on the lack of progress.

“People around the country have shown that they are willing to pay to get out of congestion. But Congress hasn’t got the message. The White House hasn’t got the message,” DeFazio said during a hearing with government and industry stakeholders on Sept. 11. “They love to talk about a big infrastructure bill, we were up to $2 trillion for three weeks and then we were down to zero. In fact, the proposals in the president’s budget consistently cut transportation investment.”

The chairman added, “A lot of all red states have raised their gas tax, raised their registration fees and states that have mixed governments and blue states. It’s not a partisan issue out there in America. Just seems to be a partisan issue here in Washington, D.C.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

Sept. 18, 2 p.m.: The House Energy Subcommittee is taking a forward-looking approach to the infrastructure debate when it meets for a hearing titled, “The Next Mile: Technology Pathways to Accelerate Sustainability within the Transportation Sector.” Witnesses include James Chen, vice president of public policy at Rivian Automotive; Ann M. Schlenker, director at the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory; Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council; Claus Daniel, director of the Sustainable Transportation Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Tim Cortes, vice president of Hydrogen Energy Systems at Plug Power Inc.

Sept. 16, noon: The Aspen Institute hosts Steven Greenhouse, former labor and workforce reporter at the New York Times, and author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor.”

Sept. 17, 10 a.m.: Politico hosts its artificial intelligence summit.

Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.: The Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider a fiscal 2020 funding bill.

Sept. 18, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets to review the country’s water resources infrastructure.

Sept. 18, 10 a.m.: The National Press Club newsmaker program hosts a news conference with Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Jeff Lyash.

Sept. 19, 9 a.m.: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be labor secretary.

Mood Swings

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicating he won’t advance legislation lacking presidential approval and President Trump not yet expressing support for an infrastructure package, what happens next?

 

In Case You Missed It

A recent Fox News video provided biographical information about Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

 

Who’s New

Rep. Dan Bishop

Bishop

North Carolina will send Republican Dan Bishop to Congress after he narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready.

The Republican leaders in Congress insists Bishop’s win is a sign of things to come during next year’s general election. Bishop self-described as pro-life, pro-gun, pro-wall candidate.

It’s too early to assess the impact the special election will have on infrastructure policy in the coming months.

Buzz

Publicly criticizing the chairman of your committee is not usually a wise move on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) did just that during a hearing on Sept. 11. Gibbs raised the point that under DeFazio’s leadership the panel had yet to consider an infrastructure bill.

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The Last Word

I think Texas is divided. I think our country is divided.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on ABC’s This Week on Sept. 15

Sen. Ted Cruz

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