House Transportation Committee Chairman faces primary

Anne Wernikoff

House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is facing a primary next Tuesday. 

Shuster, who is in his second year at the helm of the Transportation Committee, is attempting to fend off a challenge from Pennsylvania businessman Art Halvorson and an U.S. Army veteran Travis Schooley. 

The primary is occurring in the middle of high-profile congressional negotiations over new funding bills for U.S. ports and waterways and road and transit projects. 

The House and Senate are expected to approve a recent agreement on an $8.2 billion water infrastructure bill next week, and the Senate has also started moving a $265 billion surface transportation package. 

Halvorson has attacked Shuster for his past work on pricey transportation bills, and the House Transportation Committee chairman has been quiet on the road and transit funding debate in the days leading up to his primary. 

Shuster has instead focused on touting the congressional agreement on the water funding measure, tweeting a picture of his signature on the upcoming conference committee report. 

“204 days ago, the House passed #WRRDA in a landslide bipartisan 417-3 vote,” Shuster tweeted Thursday. 

“It's what we need to stay competitive & create American #jobs,” he added in a separate message. 

Shuster’s office declined a request for comment from The Hill on the road and transit funding debate this week. 

Shuster is expected to survive the primary challenge. Polls show the veteran lawmaker leading his both of his challengers by comfortable margins. 

Shuster has previously indicated that he is wants to see a transportation bill passed this summer to prevent a bankruptcy that has been projected in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund to occur as early as August. 

“My hope is to get reauthorization done on time,” Shuster said during a Transportation Committee hearing in January. “We hope to take committee action in the late spring or early summer with the goal to be on the House floor before the August recess. This way there will be time to conference our bill with the Senate’s bill.”

Shuster said then that he wanted the transportation bill to be “built around key principles” and “fiscally responsible.”

“This bill needs to be fiscally responsible and to build on the reforms in MAP-21. We need to continue to reduce regulatory burdens,” he said. “And we need to make sure our federal partners have flexibility in how they spend their money and approve projects.”

Lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall in transportation funding that has been projected to reach approximately $20 billion next year without congressional action. 

The traditional funding source for transportation projects is revenue that is collected from the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at $18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and infrastructure expenses have been outpacing receipts by a wide margin in recent years. 

The gas tax brings in approximately $34 billion per year, but the current transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September includes more than $50 billion worth of road and transit projects. 

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a six-year, $265 billion bill on Thursday morning, but the upper chamber has not yet revealed how it intends to pay for the measure beyond the expected gas tax revenue.