October 15, 2019 2:15 PM, EDT

US House Transportation Panel Showcases Partisan Dispute

Rep. Peter DeFazioHouse Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) reaffirmed his commitment to legislate on a highway policy bill during the current session of Congress. (House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee via YouTube)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

NEW YORK — On Oct. 14, Rep. Peter DeFazio held court on Broadway. Monday is usually the off day in the Theatre District, but at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, the country’s top transportation Democratic policymaker kept an audience engaged with his one-man show.

He had reaffirmed his commitment to legislate on a highway policy bill during the current session of Congress. The bill, he explained, will be transformative. It will look to prepare the country for the vehicle-miles-traveled era. It will include robust policy language about transit.

Eugene Mulero


After his remarks, the audience peppered him with questions. Funding came up. As in, how will Congress inject the actual dollars necessary to enact a grand vision for the nation’s transportation network. Remember, funding authority for highway programs expires in the fall of 2020. After calling out a top Republican for pushing back on higher fuel taxes as a source of funding, DeFazio (D-Ore.) added: “I do not think it’s politically risky. People are tired of congestion. They’re tired of potholes. They’re tired of being detoured. You know, they want the systems fixed.”

The chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives was speaking at the annual conference of the American Public Transportation Association annual conference.

His fiery response drew cheers from the APTA crowd.

DeFazio’s highway reauthorization agenda was helped by his Senate counterparts action on a highway bill. Over the summer, a panel in the upper chamber advanced a version with provisions on environmental streamlining and severe-weather resilience.

Instead of focusing on critical issues, like disaster recovery, our crumbling infrastructure, we’re here today trying to answer a constitutional question that’s currently before the courts.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)

Rep. Mark Meadows

But the typically bipartisan exercise of crafting a highway bill recently clashed with DeFazio’s other responsibility: Oversight. No. It wasn’t impeachment.

The committee’s oversight arm recently examined the financial operations of President Donald Trump’s new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Democrats touted the hearing. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) insisted the in-depth review of the hotel was too partisan. Fellow Republicans agreed, and suggested the leadership stick with the business of infrastructure policy.

“Here we are in the drama of everything related to President Trump is bad. You know, instead of focusing on critical issues, like disaster recovery, our crumbling infrastructure, we’re here today trying to answer a constitutional question that’s currently before the courts,” said Meadows, ranking member of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee. Even the self-proclaimed Builder-in-Chief responded to critics.

“If somebody stays from, let’s say a Middle East country, in one of my hotels and we charged him $392.53 for staying and I never heard of the guy and I don’t want to hear about him. They say, ‘Trump is getting rich off our nation,’ ” Trump explained.

For an encore, DeFazio is questioning the secretary of transportation’s schedule.

Missouri Republican Rep. Sam Graves, ranking member of the committee, was unimpressed.

“The majority’s new inquiry is a ridiculous attempt at a political hit job,” Graves said, in a statement obtained by Transport Topics on Oct. 15. “Instead of working on important bipartisan infrastructure issues, like fixing our roads and bridges, moving an overdue pipeline safety bill, and developing the next Water Resources Development Act, the majority is focusing more on going down political rabbit holes.

" Impeachment fever, the Green New Deal, the Old Post Office lease, and now this inquiry into the secretary are distracting us from getting something done to improve our transportation system. Secretary [Elaine] Chao has been a consummate professional and effective transportation official in multiple administrations. Throughout our time working together she has always shown a dedication to improving infrastructure for all communities across the country.”

A spokesperson at the U.S. Department of Transportation stated: “These allegations were first raised by left-wing advocacy groups and hashed out in the media, and the department has previously fully responded to them. They are politically motivated and intended to waste time. While the department will always be cooperative and responsive to appropriate requests, DOT looks forward to a prompt and final resolution of these questions.” 

The Week Ahead (All times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

Oct. 16, 10 a.m.: The House Budget Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Strengthening Our Fiscal Toolkit: Policy Options to Improve Economic Resiliency.” Participants include Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum; Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School; Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress; and John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Oct. 15, 9 a.m.: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research hosts a discussion on “Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All.” Participants include Deirdre McCloskey, professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago; and James Pethokoukis, a fellow at AEI.

Oct. 15, 4 p.m.: The Cato Institute hosts a discussion on “The Rediscovery of Tobacco: Smoking, Vaping, and the Creative Destruction of the Cigarette.” Participants include Jacob Grier, and Caleb Brown, Cato’s director of multimedia.

Oct. 15, 5 p.m.: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research hosts a discussion on “The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work.” Participants include Richard Baldwin, professor at the Graduate Institute of Geneva; Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University; Brent Orrell, resident fellow at AEI; and Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at AEI.

Oct. 16, 10 a.m.: The Bipartisan Policy Center hosts a discussion on “The Future of AI.” Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Bill Foster (D-Ill.) are scheduled to deliver keynote remarks.

Oct. 16, 10 a.m.: The House Highways and Transit Subcommittee examines modernization policies.

Oct. 16, 2:15 p.m.: The Joint Economic Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Measuring Economic Inequality in the United States.” Participants include Gabriel Zucman, associate professor of economics at the University of California-Berkeley and co-director of the World Inequality Database, Berkeley, Calif.; Heather Boushey, CEO and co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Washington; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum; and Eric Zwick, associate professor of finance and fellow in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Oct. 16, 5:30 p.m.: The Heritage Foundation presents Edith Jones, circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.

Oct. 17, 10:30 a.m.: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets for a hearing on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Mood Swings

Impeachment inquiry ices infrastructure.


In Case You Missed It

The Ray Martinez era comes to an end at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Who’s New

Avital Barnea


Avital Barnea, formerly with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, recently was appointed deputy secretary for transportation planning at the California State Transportation Agency. At CalSTA, she fills a key advisory role on planning for rail, ports, highways, and freight, mass transportation and sustainability programs. Barnea expanded on the role.

CA: What are ways state DOTs may improve freight connectivity?

AB: While it can be easy to just look at the portion of a freight trip occurring within a state’s borders, it’s important to look at the entire trip and how that affects travel time reliability. This is why California is focusing on wait times at the border, truck parking and charging infrastructure for zero-emission freight vehicles, as well as working with private industry to address their freight concerns.

CA: What are examples of ongoing, major freight improvement projects in California?

AB: California is leading the way in decarbonization at marine ports, with a plan to reduce emissions at ports by 50%. This includes a Clean Trucks Program with the aim to transition to zero-emission trucks by 2035. In order to reach this goal, we are fostering a deeper collaboration and increased engagement with community, environmental, supply chain and technology stakeholders. Funding from the California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission is also helping move the industry in this direction.

CA: What are key issues your department intends to examine in the fall?

AB: In the immediate term, we’re working to finalize the California Freight Mobility Plan (CFMP) — the statewide, long-range plan to improve freight connections over the next 20 years. We’re looking for the CFMP to go beyond the status quo and address transformative projects that align with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector.


Get ready for the Future of Transportation Caucus. Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) will be among the members of a group focusing on promoting futuristic-centric policies for the nation’s transportation network.

Favorite Video

Woke culture strikes again.

Favorite Tweet

Where the heck is New Jersey?

The Last Word

I commend the secretary for this initiative to focus needed attention on the rural infrastructure that ties together America’s vast transportation network and our economy.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), on Oct. 8. He is ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Last week, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao unveiled an infrastructure initiative with a rural focus.

Rep. Sam Graves

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

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing: