The U.S. House transportation panel early Wednesday passed along party lines the panel’s $60 billion slice of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, adding nearly $20 billion for a new transit program and high-speed rail development in the states.
Chairman Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon had considered these and other items underfunded in the Senate-led bipartisan infrastructure bill, passed there last month.
DeFazio opened the marathon Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting Tuesday morning by blasting the two-track plan to pass a $1.2 trillion bill to improve physical infrastructure alongside the broader $3.5 trillion package.
President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have said the larger plan is meant to address “human infrastructure” like health care and education.
That approach did not adequately address crucial priorities, especially related to climate change, DeFazio said, as the $1.2 trillion bill that was written without House input.
The larger bill, which Democrats are trying to pass without any Republican support through a legislative process known as budget reconciliation, affords the opportunity to address issues not covered in the Senate bill.
The panel’s allotment is just under $60 billion, though it could end up with less if the Senate reduces the $3.5 trillion topline.
“Unfortunately, we have been told that the bipartisan infrastructure plan is sacrosanct, and it just has to be voted on as-is in the House of Representatives,” DeFazio said.
“And we are going to be marking up a bill to try and fix some of the issues with the so-called bipartisan infrastructure plan, which we will not be allowed otherwise to deal with. This 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 grants, which would increase access for residents of low-income housing.
To avoid duplication with the Senate bill—a condition with which the White House agreed to win Republican support—the transit funding would not go toward existing Federal Transit Administration formula or grant programs. It would be jointly administered by the FTA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
DeFazio framed the transit program as a climate issue because mass transit provides a greener alternative to single-occupancy vehicles.
The bill would also provide $10 billion for grants to develop high-speed rail routes, which could provide a lower-emission alternative to plane travel.
Another climate item would create a $4 billion incentive program to give extra federal funding to states that achieve greenhouse gas reductions. That is a weaker version of a proposed mandate that was part of a DeFazio-written surface transportation authorization bill the House passed earlier this year.
The provision was not included in the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, DeFazio said, because the Senate-passed bill “was written by climate-denying Republicans and a couple of Democratic collaborators.”
Five Republicans and five Democrats led months-long negotiations on the Senate bill, and all 50 Senate Democrats voted for it last month.
The bill also includes $350 million for a new U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker in the Great Lakes. The ship, meant to keep shipping lanes clear in winter, was sought by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D-Ohio).
Committee Republicans still accused Democrats of violating the agreement to reopen pieces of the bipartisan infrastructure bill by including the greenhouse gas incentives program, and transit and high-speed rail funding. Read more