As Congress prepares a plan to blunt the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least two senators are pushing for the surface transportation bill to be included in a stimulus package.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., wants congressional relief efforts to include his bill (S 2302), which would authorize $287 billion in spending on roads and bridges over five years. A spokesman for the committee said Barrasso wants to attach the measure to a subsequent stimulus bill, not the House-passed measure that was revised on Monday.
Current federal funding for highway projects is expected to lapse at the end of this fiscal year, unless Congress acts to extend or reauthorize that funding. Barrasso’s bill would increase federal highway spending by around 27 percent.
“States are already starting to plan for construction projects for the fall,” Barrasso aide Mike Danylak told CQ Roll Call Tuesday in an email. “Knowing now that they will have more money available to them for roads and bridges, will allow them to ramp-up construction for this fall.”
Those projects, he said, will help lift the economy after the coronavirus and “boost confidence in the system.”
The bipartisan bill would speed approval of infrastructure projects, authorize funds for improving road safety and aims to make communities more resilient to climate change.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also called for folding the infrastructure bill into a coronavirus response package.
“If we're looking to stimulate the economy during #COVID-19, we should avoid the pitfall of throwing cash at the problem and instead follow the North Dakota model by making lasting investments in our nation’s infrastructure and national defense,” Cramer said in a Tuesday tweet.
While the Environment and Public Works Committee advanced the bill in July with a bipartisan support, the measure hasn’t been marked up in other committees of jurisdiction, including the Finance Committee.
Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in February said the Senate would have a “very difficult time finding the financing" for the $287 billion infrastructure bill.
Senate Minority Leader CharlesE. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday urged lawmakers to pass the current stimulus bill without amendments.
'Move this now'
"If we change the bill, it will go back to the House, be delayed, and delay the aid it contains for American families coping with the impact of the virus," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Let's move this now."
He has proposed a separate stimulus package that he said would form the framework for subsequent coronavirus action. Barrasso’s aide said the lawmaker hopes the infrastructure bill would be included in such a subsequent coronavirus stimulus package.
Meanwhile, the White House is expected to brief GOP lawmakers later Tuesday on a $850 billion relief package that according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump, will include aid for the airline industry.
“I’m not going to comment on the specifics,” Mnuchin told reporters at a Tuesday news conference, when asked whether the White House’s plan would include $50 billion for airlines, as reported Tuesday by The Washington Post. But he said the impact to the airline industry is “worse than 9/11”
An industry association, Airlines for America, urged Congress and the administration on Monday to consider $58 billion worth of assistance to passenger and cargo air carriers.
Administration officials have met with chief executives of airline companies who have requested federal help, as measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 bring airline travel to a standstill.
“The airline industry will be okay,” Trump said at the same news conference. “We don’t want airlines going out of business.”