WASHINGTON — House Democrats are weighing in on the infrastructure negotiations between President Joe Biden and Senate Republicans by calling for a public works boost that would dedicate about $547 billion over five years to roads, public transit systems and rail programs.
The proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, comes during a key moment of the infrastructure debate as the White House signals its desire to start wrapping up negotiations. The legislation's unveiling Friday comes as Biden prepares to hold another round of talks with the lead Senate Republican negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
DeFazio's legislation includes a reauthorization of surface transportation programs set to expire Sept. 30. He tacked on major investments in passenger and freight rail. He framed the bill as moving forward on key pieces of Biden's $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan that are within his committee's jurisdiction. And he called the effort a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future."
The bill is being closely watched as a building block toward a broader infrastructure package. DeFazio's panel is expected to debate and vote on the measure next week. It is not expected to attract much GOP support, as Republicans unveiled their own legislation recently that would authorize about $400 billion over five years for road, bridge and transit programs.
The highway bill being taken up by the House panel doesn't address the most contentious aspect of any infrastructure bill — how to pay for it. That's for another panel to determine. A similar dynamic is playing out in the Senate, where a panel recently passed its version of the highway bill unanimously, but the lawmakers didn't have to vote yet on how they would pay for it.
DeFazio's legislation used as a starting point a bill that passed his committee last year without GOP support and was then rolled into a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that passed the House but went nowhere in the Senate.
DeFazio's bill would boost investment in roads and bridges by about 54% with an emphasis on fixing existing infrastructure. It would dedicate about $4 billion to electric vehicle charging stations and would provide record levels of investment for pedestrian and cyclist pathways. It would also seek to reconnect low-income communities divided by highways with a $3 billion program "to correct mistakes of the past."
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have called on lawmakers to continue negotiations and work toward a bipartisan compromise.
But some Democrats have questioned the merits of that approach and are already unhappy with some of the compromises that Biden has offered. They support using a process that would allow Democrats to pass an infrastructure boost with a simple majority, which they did through a COVID-19 relief measure that delivered $1,400 payments to most Americans.
"Getting Republicans on board is not necessary. Getting the American people back on their feet is," Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., said Thursday night.
Biden is seeking roughly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, down from an initial pitch of $2.3 trillion. Senate Republicans have countered with only $257 billion in additional spending on infrastructure as part of a $928 billion package.