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Republicans to White House: Limit infrastructure spending to roads and bridges

‘Catch-all’ highway bill will lose support, GOP lawmakers warn

Biden and Republicans clash over infrastructure spending. (Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

As the Biden administration looks ahead to the “recovery” portion of its Build Back Better plan while the $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief bill is considered in the Senate, Republicans are drawing a line across the road when it comes to infrastructure investment.

After a White House meeting Thursday that included President Joe Biden and Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he made it clear that for an infrastructure bill to happen, Republican priorities had to be considered. “It cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress,” Graves said.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support. We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support. Second, a transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill that primarily focuses on fundamental transportation needs, such as roads and bridges. Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

Graves’ warning shot comes a day after the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of C- and said it would require $2 trillion over 10 years to fix.

Remarking on ASCE’s assessment on Wednesday — and contradicting Graves’ warning — Buttigieg emphasized that infrastructure “is more than roads and bridges and power grids and ports. It’s about investing in a way that creates millions of good jobs that last. It’s about choices to combat climate change, and it’s about building our infrastructure in a way that makes our country a more equitable place for everyone.”

Also in conflict with Graves are the investment numbers rolled out by Biden during his 2020 election campaign, which included not only $1.3 trillion over 10 years for infrastructure but a $2 trillion “accelerated investment” over his first term that included a low-carbon transportation strategy to meet his climate change goals.

Buttigieg said on Wednesday that infrastructure is one of the most bipartisan things the administration is taking on.

“This isn’t just a red state versus blue state issue or rural versus urban, it’s a national issue, and the benefits are enormous — maybe a once-in-a-lifetime moment to invest,” he said. “Interest rates are at historic lows, unemployment is higher than it should be, and there’s never been a better reason for politicians, regardless of party or ideology, to want to get this done.”

But Graves asserted on Thursday that rural infrastructure needs were left behind in the COVID relief package, citing the $30 billion in transit funding included by Democrats and benefits primarily urban areas.

“Republicans are eager to work on bipartisan solutions, but it will take a willingness to compromise and a good faith effort to consider Republican priorities,” he said. “We all have the same goal of improving America’s transportation infrastructure, but we cannot overlook broad sections of the country in the process.”

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.