When I became the Republican leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the beginning of the 116th Congress, one of my top priorities was working to pass a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill — commonly known as the “highway bill.”
This is one of the most important responsibilities of our committee. Successful reauthorizations are bipartisan and typically last five or six years, providing the certainty states need to plan and undertake large, multi-year projects.
Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass a new reauthorization, settling instead for a shorter extension of the law that expired in September (the FAST Act). As a result, Congress missed a golden opportunity to authorize hundreds of billions of dollars in needed road, bridge, transit and other surface transportation infrastructure improvements.
A major reason nothing happened was because the highway bill got caught up in Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHow Congress dismissed women’s empowerment Pelosi names first female House chaplain 2020: A year in photos MORE’s (D-Calif.) broader political agenda. Instead of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee working together across the aisle, just like we did when I helped write the FAST Act of 2015, the current House majority chose to push through a partisan bill.
The Speaker’s “My Way or the Highway” bill became a $1.5 trillion dollar wish list for the progressive wing of her party.
The bulk of this bill provided no responsible means to pay for its huge cost increases. It also wove in a bevy of new mandates stemming from the Green New Deal. In fact, $2 of every $5 in the bill related to reauthorizing surface transportation programs were tied to meeting costly Green New Deal requirements.
Not surprisingly, this bill had no chance of becoming law once it passed the House, leaving state and local governments, transportation workers and businesses hanging out to dry.
In the 117th Congress, this bill remains a top priority, and Republicans are ready to get a long-term reauthorization bill done. This effort will be a focus of ours immediately out of the gate in 2021, and our priorities in this bill will be no secret.
When the majority took the partisan path earlier this year, I introduced a bill called the STARTER Act (H.R. 7248), which embodies Republicans’ principles for surface transportation. This legislation was developed after gathering input from stakeholders, as well as ideas from committee Republicans.
We all support investing in our infrastructure, but we can’t pretend we’ve got a blank check to do it. Money doesn’t solve all problems, and if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the Obama-era stimulus spending then we are bound to repeat them.
That’s why the STARTER Act recognizes that Congress must act responsibly with the taxpayers’ money. Specifically, the bill prioritizes state flexibility, maximizes funding by streamlining project delivery, focuses on core functions of federal surface transportation programs, incorporates innovative developments in technology to improve our infrastructure, provides for the infrastructure needs of America’s rural communities, and addresses the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund.
Ultimately, the transportation community knows — and the past has proven time and again — that bipartisanship is the recipe for success when it comes to surface transportation reauthorization bills and other legislation to improve America’s infrastructure. Even in this election cycle, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee forged bipartisan agreements on other major issues under our jurisdiction, such as an aviation safety bill and water resources infrastructure legislation. It should be no different when it comes to the highway bill.
Committee Republicans are already at work improving and expanding upon the STARTER Act’s provisions, and the bill was made part of Minority Leader McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) “Commitment to America”: the Republican legislative agenda for next Congress. We look forward to bringing our ideas to the table in what we hope will be bipartisan negotiations in 2021. If Congress can work together to do that, then we can succeed in 2021 where we failed in 2020.
Graves represents Missouri’s 6th District and is ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.