House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster waited months after the Senate passed a water projects bill to present a House version, but infrastructure policy groups said it was worth the wait.
It was more than just the substance of the bill that pleased supporters of investments in harbor and inland waterways infrastructure. Committee leaders rolled out their proposal (HR 3080) with attention-getting graphics that quickly created social-media buzz — and may have changed forever how congressional committees try to sell complex transportation legislation to their members and the public. The approach may be a dress rehearsal for the bigger challenge next year of selling new highway and rail bills.
It helped that Shuster worked with ranking member Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and other Democrats on a solidly bipartisan plan.
That was a departure from the introduction of a highway and transit authorization last year, when then-Chairman John L. Mica, R-Fla., alienated Democrats and some Republicans from suburban areas with proposals for sharp cuts in transit spending. Mica’s bill never reached the House floor, and ultimately Congress enacted a surface transportation measure (PL 112-141) based mostly on the Senate-passed version.
Shuster has sought to restore the committee’s traditional bipartisanship, while also placating the tea-party-oriented members of his own caucus wary of big government investments in transportation infrastructure.
But policy experts say another factor helping to smooth the water bill’s advance is the new-era media savvy that Shuster’s committee staff has shown in the rollout. Some deficit-focused interest groups had already attacked the Senate-passed bill (S 601), and environmentalists didn’t like provisions designed to expedite environmental reviews and permitting for new projects.
Infrastructure advocates say the committee’s marketing campaign helped break through the chatter. They point specifically to a captivating short video as a standout piece of messaging, saying it takes a fresh approach to explaining normally ponderous infrastructure policy needs.
In it, Shuster narrates a chatty explanation of how ports and ships bring in goods used by households, makes the case that infrastructure has been decaying and needs helps, and says projects that take many years can be sped up by legislation. While he speaks amid sound effects , a whiteboard artist draws fast-changing cartoon scenes that hold the viewer’s eye, with entertaining twists as a port dries up and dockworkers grow beards but then water and business returns when policy changes take hold.
Within a day of being posted on YouTube, the video had more than 1,200 hits as enthusiastic infrastructure lobbyists hawked it on Twitter and Facebook. Nearly three weeks later, more than 4,300 distinct user devices — computer screens and smartphones — had connected to it.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.