House Democrats Unveil New $760 Billion Infrastructure Plan

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., gestures during a news conference unveiling House Democrats' new infrastructure framework, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., gestures during a news conference unveiling House Democrats' new infrastructure framework, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The 19-page proposal recommends tapping existing federal programs to funnel money to infrastructure projects.

House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a five-year, $760 billion proposal to make new investments in the nation’s infrastructure—including roads, transit, broadband internet networks, harbors, airports and water systems. 

But as with the other sweeping public works proposals that lawmakers and the Trump administration have put forward in the past few years, finding a viable pathway to pay for this new spending on infrastructure upgrades promises to be a challenge.

This latest plan is outlined in a 19-page “framework” that recommends funneling money through many existing federal programs. Investing in projects that are environmentally friendly and “resilient” to the effects of climate change is emphasized throughout the proposal.

It comes during an election year and as President Trump is facing an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate that Democratic lawmakers pushed for. Even so, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats do not intend for their infrastructure effort to yield "message bills.” 

“We are hoping that we will have the support of the Republicans and the president,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, charged that the nation has been “living off the legacy” of infrastructure built in the Eisenhower era. “It's falling apart,” he said. “It needs to be rebuilt."

"We have a tremendous opportunity here,” he added. 

The Democrats’ plan would devote $434 billion to highway and transit programs over the five-year timeframe, including $319 billion for roads, $105 billion for transit and $10 billion for safety initiatives.

Revamping existing “formula” funding programs so that they prioritize maintenance and improvements to existing infrastructure is one of the plan’s tenets, as is bolstering the authority that local metropolitan planning organizations have to administer funds.

Expanding passenger rail is another transportation priority that the framework identifies.

The plan also calls for allocating about $50 billion for sewer, stormwater and other water infrastructure through existing programs like the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. It would devote about $25 billion to drinking water programs as well.

And it specifically proposes creating a new Environmental Protection Agency program to help local governments detect and treat water pollution from industrial chemicals known as PFAS, while also providing an “initial infusion” of about $1 billion to help communities dealing with contamination issues.

Coming up with additional funding for any infrastructure plan is likely to be a hurdle.

Key Republicans have offered little indication during Trump’s tenure that they would support a gas tax hike that might help to shore up the Highway Trust Fund—an important pot of federal dollars for road and transit projects that has faced shortfalls in recent years.

A five-year surface transportation funding bill that was passed when President Obama was still in office is set to expire at the end of this September. The deadline is likely to generate more discussion about the Highway Trust Fund in the months ahead.

Even if the gas tax were raised, it would probably not go to support investments in non-transportation infrastructure like drinking water and sewer systems. Some of the spending that the Democrats propose could be supported by other existing taxes and fees. For instance, DeFazio alluded to the possibility of raising an airport “passenger facility charge” that has not gone up since 2001. 

“I would hope there'd be some combination of user fees and bonding,” DeFazio said as he discussed possible funding options.

He noted that the U.S. Treasury can borrow money at very low interest rates and said that if this money is directed toward something like a bridge that will last 100 years, it should not be counted on the government’s balance sheet as a single-year expense.

“We need to look at this like a capital investment,” he said.

Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, described infrastructure investments as “sorely needed” and said that he thinks “there’s some room” to arrive at a bipartisan agreement on a public works package.

“I think it's really important that we not volunteer a revenue stream until the administration reaches an agreement with us,” he said.

Neal later added: "I think that what we're looking for here is an agreement that we can then take to the public between the two sides on how best to pay for it. So there's not one-upmanship."

The federal government is not flush with budget surpluses at the moment.

Projections that the Congressional Budget Office released on Tuesday show that the federal budget deficit is expected to be $1 trillion in 2020 and that it will average $1.3 trillion over the coming decade—these are high levels compared to the past 50 years.

CBO also estimates that the nation’s debt will rise from nearly $18 trillion this year to about $31 trillion by 2030. 

As a point of reference, federal spending in the current 2020 fiscal year is expected to be around $4.6 trillion.

Trump has shown an interest in developing an infrastructure package since his early days in office. His administration put forward a highly anticipated public works plan in February 2018, but it failed to gain serious momentum on Capitol Hill.

Senate Democrats in March of 2018 proposed paying for $1 trillion of infrastructure investments by rolling back parts of the Republican-supported tax legislation approved at the end of the prior year.

In the summer of 2018, now-retired congressman Bill Shuster, then the Republican chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put forward an infrastructure measure that called for phasing in a gas tax increase of 15 cents per gallon over three years, along with a variety of other proposals. It, too, fell by the wayside.

Last year, Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to move ahead with discussions about a $2 trillion public works package. But that effort fell apart in a matter of weeks as the two sides sparred over unrelated issues involving the Democratic push to investigate the president.

Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, this week highlighted a set of GOP principles for the reauthorization of the expiring surface transportation bill.

One is to address the sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. The Republican principles say that the status quo of the fund relying predominantly on fuel taxes will not work in the long run. Graves has previously expressed interest in a fee based on vehicle miles traveled.

Cutting “red tape” with project permitting and reviews, ensuring that there’s funding for rural projects and giving states flexibility with infrastructure programs are among the other GOP principles.

“I may not agree with all of the principles in the majority’s outline, but as the Republican leader of this Committee, I expect to play a constructive role in the development of infrastructure bills before us this year,” Graves said responding to the Democratic proposal. 

“Any serious effort toward enacting infrastructure legislation must incorporate Republican principles as well,” he added.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

NEXT STORY: As States Prepare for Disasters, They Acknowledge Things Will Get Worse

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.