Politics

Remember Infrastructure? Bill Shuster Says He’s Got a New Plan

Trump administration’s earlier effort fell flat

Infrastructure is on the mind of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as he prepares to leave Congress at the end of this session. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is planning to introduce an infrastructure bill this week that will include new proposals to raise money.

Shuster said last week he would be making his proposal after the administration’s infrastructure initiative early this year fell flat among lawmakers, and with two infrastructure bills — aviation reauthorization and water resources authorization bills — still incomplete. Shuster is retiring at the end of the 115th Congress.

He has acknowledged enacting a major bill in the second half of an election year would be tough. Floor time and congressional appetite for major bills are typically constrained. He said his proposal is to start “a serious discussion” and compared it to a 2014 tax proposal that laid the groundwork for the tax law enacted at the end of 2017. The measure will be “broad,” laying out policy changes and ways to raise revenue, he said.

“It’s going to obviously deal with the policy piece that we do, reforms, all kinds of stuff,” he said. “It’s also going to deal with the pay-for. And it’s going to be the usual things and some of the things are going to be a new way forward.”

Shuster declined to give further details, including whether a gas tax increase would be part of the bill. Lawmakers regularly talk about the need for transportation infrastructure spending, but have struggled to find a way to pay for it for years. The Highway Trust Fund, the major source of money for roads and bridges, doesn’t provide enough to pay for appropriations.

Shuster championed the spinoff of the air traffic control operation from the Federal Aviation Administration in the reauthorization bill  he steered through his committee last September. But he dropped the spinoff ahead of a push for a floor vote in February, as it became clear he lacked the votes. The Senate hasn’t yet voted on its aviation bill.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to deliver $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, and to pay for it with a combination of asset sales, private partnerships and new programs. Trump’s plan envisioned $200 billion in federal spending with the rest coming from state, local and private sources. Key members of Congress rejected it almost as soon as the administration disclosed it.

Additional transportation infrastructure spending from the current Congress has thus far come through the fiscal 2018 spending law  and is on course to continue in the House and Senate fiscal 2019 Transportation-HUD spending bills.

In a June interview, Shuster said an infrastructure bill could be considered in a lame-duck period of Congress. He drew a parallel between his effort and that of former Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., whose 2014 tax bill in the months before his retirement didn’t become law but laid part of the framework for future Republican tax overhaul proposals.

“If we can do it in a lame duck, that’s not my call,” Shuster said last month. “The main thing is having the conversation, kind of like Dave Camp did with his tax bill.”

House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said last week he didn’t know the details of what Shuster wanted to do, but promised to “work very closely” with him. “Ultimately, it’s all subject to appropriation,” he said.

The Senate’s floor calendar for the rest of year is already so full that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., canceled three of the four weeks of the August recess. No committee in the chamber has marked up major surface transportation legislation.

But Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said this week he wanted to do both a water infrastructure and surface transportation infrastructure, citing Trump’s prioritization of the issue.

“The president has promised to do infrastructure and we want to do water and we want to do surface transportation,” he said Monday.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he thought there was time for the Senate to do an infrastructure bill this year, and that Democrats were interested in it. But he added he was unsure if Republican leadership would agree.

“Water infrastructure, for sure,” Carper told reporters Thursday. “Beyond that, I’m not sure. On our side, I think we’re interested. But unfortunately, we’re not running the show.” 

Watch: Ryan Talks Infrastructure at Home Depot Event

 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.