CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leaders of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee expressed confidence Wednesday about having an infrastructure bill ready before Memorial Day.
The leading committee members — including West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — discussed the need for new legislation at the start of a hearing about using a measure to address climate change, infrastructure needs and economic needs.
Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and Capito, the highest-ranked Republican, stressed the importance of a new transportation bill. The committee unanimously approved a $287 billion measure in July 2019, but Congress did not consider the proposal. Lawmakers opted last September to reauthorize existing transportation legislation as part of a sweeping continuing resolution. The reauthorization is set to expire Oct. 1.
Capito and committee members met with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier this month about transportation and infrastructure needs.
“I think the meeting signified a commitment by the administration to see that this bill becomes a reality, as this is one of my top priorities as our ranking member,” she said.
Carper said it is necessary to improve the nation’s outdated infrastructure. Lawmakers have dedicated $19 billion over the last decade toward repairing roads and transit systems following natural disasters. Carper noted the money is beyond what legislators have approved for the Highway Trust Fund; the Tax Policy Center estimates Congress has transferred more than $140 billion in general revenues to the fund since 2008 as the fund cannot be supported by federal fuel taxes and similar revenue.
“The burdens of poor road conditions are disproportionately shouldered by marginalized communities,” he continued. “Low-income families and peoples of color are frequently left behind or left out by our investments in infrastructure, blocking their access to jobs and education opportunities.”
Capito noted the economic benefits related to infrastructure projects.
“This bill could facilitate a recovery from the pandemic that has devastated our communities and wreaked havoc on our communities and our economy,” she said. “Transportation infrastructure is the platform that can drive economic growth — all-American jobs, right there, right on the ground — now and in the future, and improve the quality of life for everyone on the safety aspects.”
Carper and Capito shared optimism about finalizing a measure before the end of September, with Carper noting he wants the markup to happen before Memorial Day.
Capito said a bill must provide a long-term investment in a fiscally responsible manner, flexibility to states for addressing unique transportation needs and build upon a connected network.
“Our committee has a strong track record of developing these bills in a bipartisan manner,” Capito said. “We can come together and once again use this bipartisan process to develop a bill that includes priorities from both parties.”
The ranking member also cautioned about pushing a plan that could isolate lawmakers, referencing comments from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a fellow committee member and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Axios reported Sanders has talked to the White House about passing an infrastructure plan through budget reconciliation, meaning the Senate could approve a bill with 51 senators rather than the typical 60 votes. The chamber is split between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, but the vice president can cast a tie-breaking vote if needed.
“The strong bipartisan support that exists for a surface transportation reauthorization bill and other infrastructure legislation should not extend to a multi-trillion dollar package that is stocked full with other ideologically driven, one-size-fits-all policies that tie the hands of states and communities,” Capito said.
Sanders said during the hearing his state and other rural areas are dealing with poor infrastructure and governments are wasting money by continuously rebuilding roads rather than support maintenance.