Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House have merged a five-year reauthorization of the FAST Act into a broad economic rebuilding plan that they intend to put in place if they take control of the chamber after the November elections.
The five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs is based on the Starter Act, a bill introduced by House Republicans in June as an alternative to a Democrat-sponsored bill that the chamber passed along party lines in July that includes reauthorizing the FAST Act. However, because the House and Senate have not been able to agree on reauthorization terms in the current Congress, the FAST Act will have to be extended past its current Sept. 29 deadline.
The House Republican bill, which reauthorizes the $300 billion FAST Act at current funding levels, includes provisions for an entry-level driver training program, truck parking grants and truck driver workforce development.
“A five-year reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, combined with expedited permitting for major projects and other transportation reform measures, will create new and sustained jobs while laying the groundwork for the American economy to thrive,” commented Rodney Davis, R.-Illinois, ranking member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
“We can’t let our Nation’s pressing infrastructure needs be hijacked by the House Democrats’ Green New Deal fantasies. In 2021, a Republican majority in Congress will make new investments in our Nation’s infrastructure while ensuring our existing infrastructure receives the maintenance and funding it needs.”
The Starter Act folded in the Drive Safe Act legislation, a bill introduced earlier this year in both the House and the Senate that allows under-21 truck drivers to haul freight across state lines. The proposal, which is endorsed by the American Trucking Associations but opposed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, includes an apprenticeship program to train commercial drivers.
The act also expands flexibility for agriculture and livestock haulers under trucking hours-of-service regulations. “This will ensure that ag haulers can safely and efficiently carry essential food and agricultural goods while also improving the living conditions for livestock,” according to a summary statement.
Infrastructure rebuilding related to surface freight transportation is part of the Republicans’ Commitment to America agenda announced on Sept. 15, a legislative strategy to rebuild a U.S. economy damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
The strategy includes providing $200 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. It would also implement China Task Force recommendations to move U.S. supply chains for medicine, protective medical equipment and technology out of China.
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