House Democrats tout five-year, $760 billion infrastructure plan

GOP members offer infrastructure ideas as well, urge bipartisan legislation

Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Richard E. Neal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference Wednesday to announce an ambitious infrastructure framework. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Richard E. Neal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference Wednesday to announce an ambitious infrastructure framework. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 29, 2020 at 12:50pm

House Democrats Wednesday unveiled an ambitious five-year, $760 billion infrastructure framework, part of a concentrated election-year effort to show they can pursue aggressive legislation even as they make a case for the Senate to remove President Donald Trump from office.

“These are not message bills,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We are hoping we’ll have the support of Republicans and the president of the United States.”

She acknowledged that the effort would be a “major expense” as Republican lawmakers called for a bipartisan effort.

“We have to find the funding for it, and Richie will talk about that,” Pelosi said, referring to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass. His committee will debate infrastructure funding options Wednesday afternoon.

[How to pay for infrastructure? Ways and Means will count the ways]

The framework would allocate $329 billion for highways and bridges and include money aimed at “dramatically increasing” the availability of electric-vehicle charging stations and alternative fueling options for other types of zero-emission vehicles, such as those that run on hydrogen. 

It would include $105 billion for transit, including an increase in dollars for transit agencies to add new routes. It would also increase investment in zero-emission buses.

Also in the plan are $55 billion for rail investments, $30 billion for airport investments, $50.5 billion for wastewater infrastructure, $86 billion to expand broadband, $12 billion for public safety communications and $19.7 billion for harbor infrastructure.

Besides the package unveiled Wednesday, Pelosi said she expects to add components for housing and education infrastructure before moving the legislation.

Where’s the money?

The proposal included a price tag but no pay-fors, which would be considered at the later Ways and Means hearing.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., said the framework aims to eliminate carbon emissions from transportation and approach the climate crisis by encouraging the government to build carbon-neutral buildings, make renewable fuels more available to airlines and increase transit options, including rail.

DeFazio said the bill would address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure as well as transportation congestion, including at airports. It would encourage airlines to use renewable fuels and encourage the federal government to partner with communities on much-needed wastewater treatment plants. And it includes money to build infrastructure resilient to weather events related to climate change, he said.

“We have a tremendous opportunity here,” he said, saying the nation has been “living off the legacy of Dwight David Eisenhower” when it comes to infrastructure.

On Tuesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., released a list of GOP principles for the bill, urging Democrats to incorporate their priorities into a broader measure. That list included streamlining the project review process, prioritizing existing highways and bridges, giving more flexibility for states as they try to comply with federal rules and addressing the needs of rural communities.

“Any serious effort toward enacting infrastructure legislation must incorporate Republican principles as well,” Graves said in a news release. “The time for partisan posturing from House Democrat Leadership is over.” 

But the biggest point of contention may be on how to pay for the measure.

Administration’s role

Neal said he had a conversation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the secretary left for an economic conference in Davos earlier this month, and that the two agreed that they may be able to find agreement.

“I think it’s very important we not volunteer a revenue stream until the administration reaches an agreement with us,” Neal said. He added that he had spoken with a GOP leader who told him Republicans might provide 70 votes for an infrastructure package.

DeFazio has advocated a slight increase to the 18.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which is the largest source of funding for the Highway Trust Fund, as have groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, American Public Transportation Association and American Trucking Associations.

The gas tax has been unchanged since 1993.

But Republicans, including Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Graves, have been reluctant to embrace such an increase.

Graves has endorsed a mechanism that would assess highway users a fee based on how many miles they travel, saying it’s “a more equitable way to charge drivers for the roads they use, and that we are in fact capable of beginning that transition now.”

The bill is at this point just a framework, and there’s no legislative language yet. Pelosi said she had no firm timing on when it would be on the House floor.

“We’ll go to the floor when we’re ready,” she said.

Doug Sword contributed to this report.