Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday affirmed House Republicans’ intentions to complete an infrastructure overhaul this year but said that the effort will be broken into pieces.
“We don’t want to do one big bill,” the Wisconsin Republican said at an event in Georgia with Home Depot employees.
Rather, Ryan said the infrastructure overhaul will be tackled in five to six bills.
“We think it’s easier to break it into pieces,” he said.
The effort will start “in about a week and a half” with a short-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, whose authorization is scheduled to expire March 31.
The FAA extension, likely to last sometime in the summer, is expected to be attached to the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill.
The spending measure will include a “downpayment” on infrastructure funding, Ryan said. He was referring to a budget deal reached earlier this year on raising the sequestration spending caps that sets aside $10 billion in fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 for infrastructure from the nondefense spending increase agreed to for those years.
Other specific bills Ryan said would be part of the piecemeal infrastructure overhaul, which he expects to be ongoing through the summer, include a longer-term FAA reauthorization, the biennial Water Resources Development Act authorizing water infrastructure projects like ports and inland waterways and legislation to streamline the permit approval process.
Congress had planned to do the FAA and WRDA measures this year anyway, separate of the larger infrastructure push from President Donald Trump and his administration.
Ryan also alluded to a traditional highway funding bill that would infuse money into the Highway Trust Fund.
“We’re going to do the traditional infrastructure you’re thinking of, which is like highways and roads and bridges,” he said.
The current surface transportation authorization lasts through fiscal 2020 and the Highway Trust Fund that pays for federal highway and transit spending is projected to run out of money shortly after.
Democrats and some Republicans, like Transportation Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., have called for an increase in the federal fuel taxes that flow into the trust fund. Ryan, however, has ruled that out.
“We’re not going to raise gas taxes. ... We’re just not going to do that here,” the speaker said Wednesday on a telephone town hall with conservative activists from Americans for Prosperity. “There are some people who are talking about that, but the last thing we want to do is pass historic tax relief in December and then undo that, so we are not going to raise gas taxes.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Peter A. DeFazio said an infrastructure funding bill cannot pass without new revenue attached to it. He prefers a gas tax increase and said it was up to Trump to convince Ryan.
“I’ve said all along: Ryan is ideologically opposed to the federal government funding a national transportation system,” the Oregon Democrat said. “I never expected him to be supportive and I told President Trump if he wanted to do a real gas tax increase that he was gonna have to take on the speaker of the House and his leadership team.”