House Committee Approves Surface Transportation Reauthorization

After a contentious two-day markup held on June 17-18, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure approved a $494 billion surface transportation reauthorization package, the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in AMERICA) Act.

The markup was plagued by poor video connections and drawn out votes on the over 100 amendments. Additionally, Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) complained that the bill, as presented, lacked input from the Republican minority. House Republicans introduced a bill to counter the INVEST in America Act, with the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act.

Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) pressed forward with consideration of the INVEST in America Act, and worked to include dozens of amendments in the final package, including 34 from Republicans and 23 from Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated her intention to bring the bill to the House floor prior to the July 4th recess as part of a $1.5 trillion package to boost American infrastructure. In addition to the surface transportation piece, that larger package would include $100 billion for schools, $100 billion for affordable housing, $100 billion for broadband, $65 billion for water projects, $70 billion for the electric grid, $30 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for the Postal Service over 10 years.

While many amendments were approved, many others were rejected that were aimed at removing the climate change and resiliency portions of the legislation. Committee Republicans offered repeated amendments targeting electric vehicles and bike lane efforts and sought to make it more difficult for environmental groups to use lawsuits to block highways, dams, and other projects viewed as damaging to wildlife and the environment. Several amendments aimed to prevent environmental advocates from using the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to block infrastructure projects were rejected.

While the House has yet to vote as a body on its surface transportation bill, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works moved legislation, S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) in July 2019. Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) said that he is opposed to the House bill, and stated, "The House Democrats partisan highway bill is a road to nowhere." The $287 billion ATIA legislation was passed unanimously by the Committee.

Still to come is work on how to pay for any of these packages. The House Committee on Ways & Means and the Senate Committee on Finance are responsible for structuring tax policy to pay for the infrastructure bills, but have yet to release any information on their plans. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) has said that the Committee has looked at revenue measures to pay for infrastructure. Neal has floated ideas such as making changes to the tax code to permanently reinstate Build America Bonds and Advance Refunding Bonds, and expand the issuance of Private Activity Bonds, as well as making permanent and expand the New Markets Tax Credit.