US House Democrats add more public transit and high-speed rail in second hit of infrastructure bill
On Wednesday morning, the U.S. House Transportation Panel passed along party lines the $60 billion tranche of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, adding nearly $20 billion to a new mass transit program and the development of high-speed trains in the states.
President Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon had considered these and other items underfunded in the Senate-led bipartisan infrastructure bill, went there last month.
DeFazio opened the marathon Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Tuesday morning by blowing up the two-pronged plan to pass a $1.2 trillion bill to improve physical infrastructure alongside the broader package. of $3.5 trillion.
President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats said the broader plan was aimed at tackling “human infrastructure” like health care and education.
That approach hasn’t adequately addressed critical priorities, particularly related to climate change, DeFazio said, like the $1.2 trillion bill that was drafted without House input.
The larger bill, which Democrats are trying to pass without any Republican support through a legislative process known as budget reconciliation, provides an opportunity to address issues not covered by the Senate bill.
The panel’s allocation is just under $60 billion, though it could end up with less if the Senate cut revenue by $3.5 trillion.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been told that the bipartisan infrastructure plan is sacrosanct, and simply needs to be passed as is in the House of Representatives,” DeFazio said.
“And we’re going to draft a bill to try to fix some of the issues with the so-called bipartisan infrastructure plan, which we won’t be allowed to deal with otherwise. It was a torturous negotiation, to put it mildly.
Among those fixes in the bill the panel approved early Wednesday morning 37-29 was an additional $9.9 billion for transit subsidies, which would increase access for low-income housing residents.
To avoid duplication with the Senate bill — a condition with which the White House agreed to gain Republican support — transit funding would not go to the Federal Transit Administration’s existing formula or grant programs. It would be jointly administered by the FTA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
DeFazio called the transit program a climate issue because mass transit offers a greener alternative to single-occupant vehicles.
The bill would also provide $10 billion in grants to develop high-speed rail routes, which could provide a cleaner alternative to air travel.
Another climate element would create a $4 billion incentive program to provide additional federal funding to states that achieve greenhouse gas reductions. It is a weaker version of a proposed mandate that was part of a surface transportation authorization bill penned by DeFazio that the House passed earlier this year.
The provision was not included in the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, DeFazio said, because the bill passed by the Senate “was drafted by climate-denying Republicans and a few Democratic aides.” .
Five Republicans and five Democrats conducted months-long negotiations over the Senate bill, and the 50 Democrats in the Senate voted for last month.
The bill also includes $350 million for a new US Coast Guard icebreaker in the Great Lakes. The vessel, intended to keep shipping lanes clear in the winter, was sought by U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, (D-Ohio).
Republicans on the committee have consistently accused Democrats of violating the agreement to reopen elements of the bipartisan infrastructure bill by including the greenhouse gas incentive program and funding for public transit and high-speed train.
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, (R-Tenn.), introduced an amendment to scrap the transit program.
“President Biden had said he didn’t want to duplicate anything and he wanted it clean,” Burchett said. “This duplicate program violates the agreement, yet again, by challenging issues in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”
The Democratic majority rejected the amendment.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, (R-Penn.), introduced an amendment to scrap the incentive program, and U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican, introduced zero funding for high-speed rail. Democrats rejected both amendments.
Like DeFazio, ranking Republican Sam Graves of Missouri was unhappy with the two-track approach, but for different reasons. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “hijacked the Senate infrastructure bill” by tying it to the reconciliation bill, he said.
“Infrastructure is now just a Trojan horse,” he said.
During Tuesday’s markup, Republicans also voiced objections to the size of the overall budget plan and Democrats’ priorities at a time when they saw more pressing issues.
“When will the majority say ‘enough’ and put the brakes on this reckless spending?” said Graves.
Graves added that Congress should focus on the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, responding to Hurricane Ida and fighting inflation. The budget plan did none of those things, he said.
U.S. Representative Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana, proposed an amendment to provide $10 billion in funding to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to help those affected by Ida.
But Democrats noted that the bill was the product of careful negotiations with other committees and the Senate, and funding levels could not be changed.
Republicans also made messaging changes further out of the committee’s purview, seeking to ban critical race theory teaching at the US Coast Guard Academy, investigating military equipment left behind in Afghanistan, crossings illegal border crossings and the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for employers over 100. workers. All were defeated.