By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA
A preference for bipartisanship and speed in crafting an infrastructure package emerged from a March 4 White House meeting between President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and eight Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee.
“He’s very, very set on getting it done, and getting it done pretty damn soon,” T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said of Biden’s interest in infrastructure.
Biden has been meeting with members of Congress, labor unions, and other stakeholders on a weekly basis as he prepares to unveil details of his infrastructure plan in the coming weeks.
DeFazio said he plans to advance a bill out of the T&I Committee this spring. He indicated its foundation will be the legislation the committee advanced last year. That five-year, $494 billion surface transportation bill was folded into a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package passed by the full House, but never considered in the Senate.
DeFazio also suggested in a subsequent March 4 interview that Democrats may use reconciliation to secure infrastructure pay-fors and then move the policy piece separately, but ideally with bipartisan support. “The money could be raised through reconciliation—and the money will be a big hangup…clearly the president wants to try bipartisan, and I’m willing to try that,” he said.
Reconciliation is a policy procedure that allows certain measures to advance in the Senate with just 51 votes. Biden and other Democrats have previously suggested raising the corporate tax rate to fund infrastructure, which would be unlikely to attract much, if any, Republican support. Attendees at the March 4 meeting also discussed various user fees, like a motor fuels tax increase and the potential for a vehicle miles traveled fee.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the T&I Committee’s top Republican, expressed concerns about the scope and potential cost of a broad, infrastructure bill. “A highway bill cannot grow into a multi-trillion dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support. We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support,” he said.
T&I Committee members Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Sharice Davis (D-Kan.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) also attended the Oval Office meeting.
Congress aims to wrap-up work on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill by March 14. It contains $350 billion for state and local governments, $30 billion in direct aid for public transit, and $8 billion for airports. Once passed, Congress is expected to turn to economic recovery legislation, with infrastructure as the centerpiece.