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Bipartisan group of senators introduces surface transportation bill

Bipartisan group of senators introduces surface transportation bill
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators Saturday announced it is introducing a bill to provide new funding for transportation priorities as Congress debates a broader infrastructure package.

Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office Rick Scott threatens to delay national security nominees until Biden visits border Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees MORE (D-Del.) and Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (R-W.Va.), the top two lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' Antsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch MORE (D-Md.) and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office GOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Trump dismisses climate change, calls on Biden to fire joint chiefs MORE (R-N.D.) announced a surface transportation reauthorization bill that will be marked up by the panel on Wednesday.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 would establish new baseline funding of $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs to support highways, roads and bridges.

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The bill comes after the prior authorization for surface transportation programs expired in 2020 and Congress greenlighted a one-year extension that will expire at the end of September. 

“I’m proud to join with my colleagues in crafting a bipartisan bill that invests in our nation’s transportation infrastructure at a historic high level, and in doing so, helps create jobs, curbs our carbon emissions, and expands opportunities for the American people,” Carper said in a statement.

“From the beginning of this process, I have expressed my desire to work together across the aisle to develop a bipartisan solution to address our nation’s infrastructure challenges. Our bill unveiled tonight accomplishes this. Not only will this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation help us rebuild and repair America’s surface transportation system, but it will also help us build new transportation infrastructure,” Capito said of the bill.

“These critical investments will help to provide economic opportunities now and for future generations,” Capito added. 

The bill’s introduction and markup come as Democrats, along with the White House, negotiate with Republicans on a broader infrastructure package. Thus far, talks have failed to produce a breakthrough.

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President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE first introduced his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan, which Republicans panned as too expensive and a deviation from "traditional infrastructure." After Republicans, led by Capito, came back with a counterproposal of under $600 billion, the White House responded with a revised package with a price tag of $1.7 trillion.

That figure still appeared too high for the GOP, with a spokesperson for Capito calling it “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support.” 

“There continue to be vast differences between the White House and Senate Republicans when it comes to the definition of infrastructure, the magnitude of proposed spending, and how to pay for it,” said Kelley Moore, a spokeswoman for Capito.

The infrastructure package highlighted already broad partisan divides in the Senate, with progressives saying the White House should push its original package through without GOP support, while centrists like Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHollywood goes all in for the For the People Act The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (D-W.Va.) say bipartisanship is required for the legislation. 

Carper suggested Saturday that the surface transportation bill is a step toward passing Biden’s package. 

“We must reauthorize the surface transportation bill before its current authorization expires in September: it is a vital foundation for President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. I look forward to continuing to work to transform our nation’s infrastructure and equip our economy for the future,” he said.