While top-ranking congressional Democrats generally reacted in resistance to President Trump’s infrastructure proposal released Monday, other messages from the party indicated a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner toward enacting sweeping legislation to promote national infrastructure.
Calling Trump’s plan “embarrassingly small,” House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a Monday statement that it would shift the main infrastructure funding burden from the federal government to “cash-strapped states and local governments.”
The White House proposal includes the stated core goals of attracting “significant new, non-federal revenue streams” and a focus on making grant funding contingent on entities’ ability to demonstrate measurable milestones.
Trump’s plan seeks to authorize total appropriations of $200 billion to support the nation’s infrastructure, including ports and surface transportation. Half of that funding would be dedicated to a grant incentives program designed, in part, to “maximize investment” beyond federal dollars.
Trump is requesting an infrastructure bill that will drive a total of at least $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment over the next decade.
T&I hasn’t announced any hearings to examine the administration’s proposal yet, but a committee spokesperson said “stay tuned as we move forward to develop legislation.” Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., in a Monday statement said a broad national infrastructure bill “needs to be bipartisan, fiscally responsible, and make real long-term investments in our nation.”
He pointed to addressing the sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund, new types of investments, and ensuring fast project delivery as examples of how Congress could work to improve infrastructure.
“The President is a builder who understands the importance of infrastructure to jobs and our economy, and I welcome the release of his Administration’s principles today as Congress prepares to develop an infrastructure bill,” Shuster said.
In his criticism, DeFazio said that the administration’s framework, formally sent to Congress Monday, would cut more than $168 billion from existing transportation and infrastructure programs, creating more road tolls and gutting environmental, clean water, and clean air protections under the “guise” of expediting projects.
As an alternative to the Trump plan, DeFazio pointed to “A Better Deal to Rebuild America,” congressional Democrats’ infrastructure proposal, which DeFazio noted would provide $1 trillion in federal funding to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges, ports, harbors, and airports, among other things.
DeFazio joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in criticizing Trump’s plan for a lack of focus on “Buy America” policies to build U.S. infrastructure. When implemented as part of public procurements, “Buy America” policies generally require that contracts be awarded to domestic entities.
“The president’s infrastructure proposal would do very little to make our ailing infrastructure better, but would put unsustainable burdens on our local government and lead to Trump tolls all over the country, all while undermining important protections like Buy America,” Schumer said in a statement. “Democrats want to work in a bipartisan way to improve our infrastructure, which is why we put forward a real plan that would expand access to high-speed internet across the country, rebuild our roads and bridges, and modernize our electric grid while creating millions of good-paying, middle-class jobs. Unfortunately, the president’s plan falls short on all these fronts.”
T&I member Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., disagrees with a core premise of the Trump plan to constrain federal infrastructure funding, but in a phone interview with American Shipper, he said he’s optimistic that any committee hearings on broad infrastructure legislation would be done in a bipartisan manner and consider the key elements of a House sustainability coalition’s outline for national infrastructure.
Among other things, the outline, released Monday, calls for reauthorization of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act to limit pollution created near and at ports, and along inland transportation corridors. It also calls for innovative technologies to help reduce pollution while making such solutions as cost-effective as possible.
Infrastructure funding “is a federal responsibility, and we can’t walk away from it,” Lowenthal said in the interview. “And the Trump administration plan walks away from it. Not only does it not find new funding, but it takes existing funding from transportation in order to add to it. That is unconscionable.”
He added that the Trump plan resembles a “skeleton” with “no meat on it,” in contrast with the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition’s (SEEC’s) plan.
Lowenthal’s approach and SEEC’s plan seek to eschew the notion that environmental sustainability and economic growth are competing goals, he said.
“If you go through the president’s thing, they’re competing,” Lowenthal said. “What competes with economic development is a lack of money. That’s what stopped all these projects. Yeah, we can always look at things that get in our way, but environmental protections are there for a reason, and we can work with them to create a better society for all involved.”
T&I could challenge Trump’s plan in a “bipartisan way” by “putting the meat on the bones” of a national infrastructure proposal, Lowenthal said, adding that it’s very possible that T&I Republicans and Democrats can examine a national infrastructure plan in a cohesive manner.
SEEC co-chairs Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Gerald Connolly, D-Va., and Doris Matsui, D-Calif., will “absolutely” follow up with Shuster and members of House GOP leadership to push for incorporation of their proposal in any sweeping infrastructure legislation, a spokesperson for the coalition said in an email.
“The SEEC proposal would help make smart, long-term investments to restore critical public infrastructure and help ensure the U.S. economy remains ready to compete,” she said.
Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a Monday statement that, for infrastructure, the U.S. needs to make “real investments – not cuts” in “communities” across the country. He said modernizing transportation networks is “something we all agree the U.S. desperately needs” to maintain global economic leadership.
Nelson said, “That’s why I plan to work with [committee] Chairman [John] Thune [R-S.D.] and my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee to try to come up with a bill that can garner broad support and include ideas from both parties.”
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