On April 7, Congress began its annual two-week recess. Just prior to adjournment, there were ongoing negotiations between moderate Republicans and members of the Freedom Caucus in another attempt to advance a health care bill to the floor. However, those negotiations were unable to remedy the major policy differences between the two groups. Moreover, the political environment will not get any easier when Congress reconvenes, as Congress will be faced with extending the current government spending bill that expires on April 28, raising the debt ceiling, and attempting to advance a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code. If you thought health care reform was difficult, an overhaul of the tax code may present even more of a challenge. While some Democrats may agree with some of the revisions put forth by Republicans, such as allowing U.S. national companies to repatriate cash currently deposited in foreign banks to help defray the cost of infrastructure spending, there seems to be little agreement otherwise between the major parties. Republicans may have difficulty within their own base to gain a consensus on such reforms as the border adjustment tax, which is the cornerstone piece of Speaker Ryan’s Blue Print on Tax Reform, which calls for a tax on imports.
Rebuilding the Nation’s Infrastructure Is A Priority for Trump Administration
So, where does this leave infrastructure? The President continues to talk about the importance of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, and it appears to be a top legislative priority for his administration. In a recent White House Town Hall event, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “legislation could come as soon as May.” The President added that his emphasis is going to be on "shovel ready" jobs. After the recent collapse of the bridge over Atlanta’s 1-85, Secretary Chao directed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to award $10 million in Emergency Relief (ER) funds to help begin repairs on the bridge. Meanwhile, the House Transportation Committee continues to conduct hearings relating to infrastructure, while waiting for the Administration to put forth a bill.
Road Construction Groups Testify
On April 5, the U.S. House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transits conducted an implementation hearing on “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act Implementation: State and Local Perspectives,” chaired by Sam Graves (R-MO 6th). The hearing provided an opportunity for state and local stakeholders to provide their perspectives concerning the FAST Act. Testifying before Graves’s subcommittee included the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM). According to AASHTO’s testimony, progress has been made but concerns remain such as: FAST Act funding levels must be honored as we look to identify a long-term revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund; any new infrastructure package must build on the foundation laid by the FAST Act; and the federal surface transportation program must prepare for and harness significant technological advancements. APTA stressed that some of the programs adopted under the FAST Act, such as the Capital Investment Grants program, which supports new and expanding fixed guideway rail and bus rapid transit systems, are at risk of being phased out under the President’s proposed budget. USCM praised the positive features of the FACT Act, such as funding, flexibility, and balanced investment in highways, transit and other travel alternatives, but it noted the recent I-85 bridge collapse highlights the need for transportation options, such as a “robust transit service.” To review the complete testimony, including Chairman Graves’ opening statement, please click here.
Bill To Increase Investments in Harbor and Port Projects
Finally, on April 5, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR 4th) and Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA 3rd) introduced H.R. 1908, the "Investing in America: Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act," legislation that would increase investments in critical harbor and port projects and guarantee that money intended to dredge the nation’s coastal and inland commercial ports would actually go toward harbor maintenance. “Safe, navigable ports enhance regional and local economic development and sustain and create thousands of jobs in Oregon," according to Defazio’s press release. Defazio’s press statement noted that, “'The Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund' proposal provides the necessary funding to dredge commercial harbors and ports of all sizes, and maintain these harbors for the next decade, without raising a dime in taxes or adding a penny to the deficit.”