Share
July 19, 2021 2:00 PM, EDT

US Senate Kicks Off Infrastructure Debate This Week

Sen. Chuck SchumerSen. Chuck Schumer and leaders in the Democratic caucus are planning to include in the budget proposal matters related to climate change and so-called human infrastructure social programs. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

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

For Congress to realize President Joe Biden’s aim of enacting transformative infrastructure legislation this year, Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate intend to commence that legislative process as early as this week.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is planning to hold a procedural vote July 21 on what likely would be dynamic infrastructure policy legislation that would include a committee-passed, multiyear freight policy bill. The price tag for the infrastructure measure is expected to exceed $1 trillion, separate from the $3.5 trillion budget proposal led by Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Schumer and leaders in the Democratic caucus are planning to include in the budget proposal matters related to climate change and so-called human infrastructure social programs, such as housing and health care.

Eugene Mulero

Mulero

As expected, the Biden White House is championing momentum on Capitol Hill on a domestic agenda the president refers to as “build back better.” Press secretary Jen Psaki affirmed the commitment to achieving these policy pillars: “The president is ready, willing, able, looking forward to playing any constructive role he can play in getting these pieces of legislation across the finish line.”

For a budget-centric measure to advance through a simple majority, the Senate Democratic caucus must solidify the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Thus far, Manchin has raised a few questions about the legislative process. Congressional Republicans also have raised similar questions, with GOP leaders mounting opposition to Schumer and his allies over the multitrillion-dollar legislative goal.

On July 18, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a lead negotiator on the recent $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure framework, explained on CNN differences in the legislative landscape.

“Ours is a bipartisan process. And it is, again, about infrastructure only, which is a different kind of spending than what the Democrats are talking about,” he said. “Theirs is a $3.5 trillion reconciliation [budget] bill, meaning they only need 50 votes. Ours requires 60. And theirs is about substantially new spending on new social programs, and then huge tax increases.”

Ours is a bipartisan process. And it is, again, about infrastructure only, which is a different kind of spending than what the Democrats are talking about.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Sen. Rob Portman

Despite GOP pushback, Schumer continues to express optimism, a sentiment echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who pledged to lead passage of a big picture infrastructure package, as well as a multitrillion-dollar budget plan.

“Our House committees stand ready to work with the Senate,” she emphasized, “as this top-line [budget] agreement is turned into legislative text. Doing so is a critical step to passing infrastructure and reconciliation [budget] packages that are truly worthy of the American people.”

THUD Community Project Funding by Transport Topics

The House already advanced a multiyear highway policy bill, which potentially could find a home in a much larger infrastructure policy package. House funding leaders also intend to consider fiscal 2022 transportation funding legislation the week of July 26. The funding bill, which received party-line support in committee, includes $427.5 million for highway projects via community project funding, or earmarks.

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

July 21, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for a hearing on cybersecurity and the country’s infrastructure. Watch the hearing here.

July 22, 10 a.m.: The Senate Space and Science Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Space Situational Awareness, Space Traffic Management, and Orbital Debris: Examining Solutions for Emerging Threats.”

Freight Corridor

The secretary of transportation and the chairman of the transportation committee tour Oregon.

Legislative Docket

Legislation that would boost funding for federal transportation operations in fiscal 2022 was approved by a U.S. House panel along party lines, setting up a vote in the chamber prior to the congressional August recess. On July 16, the House Appropriations Committee, with jurisdiction over funding matters, approved a transportation funding bill that would dedicate $84.1 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Transportation and related infrastructure programs. The committee approved the legislation by a 33-24 vote. The draft measure would dedicate an additional $8.7 billion, or more than an 11% increase from fiscal 2021 approved levels.

THUD Spending Bill by Transport Topics on Scribd

Specific to DOT, that would mean an increase of $1.9 billion. House Democratic leaders indicated the legislation would be among other funding bills scheduled for floor consideration during the week of July 26. Senate funding leaders have yet to advance their fiscal 2022 funding legislation.

“Updating our nation’s aging infrastructure, including our housing stock, is central to our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Price (D-N.C.), Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee chairman.

Buzz

Prepare to hear about “election infrastructure” during the infrastructure policy debate on Capitol Hill, per transportation insiders.

Favorite Video

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has something to say ahead of the infrastructure debate.

Favorite Tweet

Big Fish

The Last Word

Millions of Americans are still not protected against COVID-19, and we are seeing more infections among those who are unvaccinated.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on July 15

Vivek Murthy

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

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