House Democrats unveil $760B infrastructure plan


House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a $760 billion framework to fund infrastructure investments over five years in an effort to take their first steps on a top campaign priority.

The framework, which is not a formal bill at this stage, does not yet spell out proposals for how to pay for the investments in infrastructure like highways, rail, airports and expanding broadband access.

Democrats last year attempted to work with President Trump on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, but the efforts collapsed due to a failure to agree on how to pay for it and the president’s frustration with lawmakers investigating him.

But Democrats are trying to set a marker for a top legislative priority for the 2020 campaign and move on from impeachment, which has now moved to the Senate for a trial.

The House Ways and Means Committee is set to hold a hearing later Wednesday on how to pay for infrastructure investments.

The Democrats’ framework proposes $329 billion for roads and bridges, $55 billion for passenger rail, $30 billion for airport investments, $50.5 billion for wastewater infrastructure, $86 billion for expanding broadband access for rural areas, and $12 billion for a “next-generation” 911 system for emergency calls, according to a summary.

The framework also seeks to address climate change, a top Democratic priority. It incorporates ways to combat climate change with proposals like increasing the availability of charging stations and other fueling options for electric and zero-emissions vehicles, making roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and investing in zero-emission buses for public transit to reduce traffic congestion.

“There are so many ways we can deal with the climate crisis by solving our congestion and infrastructure crisis,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who took the lead on the framework. 

But the issue of how to pay for the infrastructure investments will fall primarily to the House Ways and Means Committee and Democratic leaders.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said that Democrats will only be offering proposals for how to pay for infrastructure investments if there’s buy-in from the GOP and Trump.

“I think it’s really important that we not volunteer a revenue stream until the administration reaches an agreement with us,” Neal said at a press conference to publicly unveil the infrastructure framework. “I think what we’re looking for here is an agreement that we can then take to the public between the two sides about how best to pay for it so there’s not one-upmanship.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that both Democrats and Trump campaigned on infrastructure, suggesting it could be an area of common ground despite the intense partisanship on most other issues.

“The president said throughout the campaign that’s something he wanted to do, so we hope to be joining with him in a unifying way,” Pelosi said.

“We also said we’re going to have cleaner government, I don’t know if he’s up for that,” Pelosi added to laughter from some aides in the room.

Democratic leaders first unveiled the details to their members in a caucus meeting Wednesday ahead of a press conference with committee chairmen and several vulnerable freshman lawmakers who serve on the Transportation Committee.

Democratic leaders repeatedly made a point of gesturing to the freshmen standing behind them at the press conference, underscoring how the party wants to move on from impeachment and focus on their policy agenda as they prepare to campaign for reelection this year. 

“They just went through very tough campaigns and they talked about what the people want,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Republicans declined to endorse the principles outlined in Democrats’ framework, but expressed openness to working with Democrats on infrastructure.

“Any serious effort toward enacting infrastructure legislation must incorporate Republican principles as well,” Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), the top Republican on the Transportation Committee, said. “The time for partisan posturing from House Democrat leadership is over. On this Committee, we know the recipe for success in addressing America’s infrastructure needs is through partnership, so let’s get to work.”

Republicans on the committee outlined their own set of priorities on Tuesday ahead of the release of Democrats’ framework, including addressing the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund, addressing infrastructure for rural communities and ensuring state flexibility for infrastructure needs.

Democrats similarly urged Trump to propose ways to pay for infrastructure during their short-lived talks last year, but neither side ultimately offered proposals to the public.

Trump has indicated an openness in the past to raising the gas tax, but the idea is anathema to members of both parties. The federal excise tax on gasoline has not been raised since 1993.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) indicated last year that he would only back raising the gas tax if Republicans agreed to roll back some of the tax cuts in the 2017 tax overhaul — a non-starter for the GOP and Trump.

Even if lawmakers don’t agree to an ambitious infrastructure investment package, they will face a deadline at the end of September to renew expiring surface transportation programs. Congress previously passed a five-year transportation package in 2015, which then-President Obama signed into law.

Updated at 11:51 a.m.

Tags Budget Chuck Schumer Donald Trump House Infrastructure Nancy Pelosi Peter DeFazio Richard Neal Sam Graves Steny Hoyer
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