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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Highly partisan budget process may roadblock infrastructure progress

Last year, Republicans and Democrats worked together to provide trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief for the American people. This collaborative process led to the approval of $113 billion to assist transportation workers and businesses in this vital sector of our economy. 

In addition, we also authorized more than $45 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) — which during the pandemic has been utilized by states to purchase PPEs, support vaccination distribution efforts and supplement state unemployment benefits, among other things.

In all, Congress approved five bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages in 2020, the most recent of which was less than two months ago. Since then, we’ve begun to see signs of economic recovery, including drops in new unemployment claims and strengthening consumer confidence.

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But, more importantly, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other experts are indicating long-term economic improvements, even if Congress passes no additional relief. Moving into 2021, my hope was that Congress would continue collaborating on any new potential relief legislation. After all, this pandemic doesn’t affect just Democrats or Republicans — it impacts all Americans.

But instead of maintaining this bipartisan path, Speaker Pelosi instructed all House committees to conduct an entirely one-sided process for the next multi-trillion-dollar round of COVID-19 relief aid. As a result, on Feb. 10, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took up its $95.62 billion spending piece, just two days after Republicans got their first look at it. And while much of the country watched the ongoing impeachment drama in the Senate, this same partisan budget process was simultaneously playing out in many other House committees.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s budget measure was rushed to a vote without any comprehension of what effects the previously approved transportation sector funding has had, before significant portions of previous funding has even gotten into the hands of its intended recipients, and with no discussions with Republicans of how best to target any new funding.

During our nine-hour committee markup, Republicans offered more than 50 amendments to address our priorities. We suggested changes to provide greater equity for funding in rural communities, underrepresented in this package. We offered adjustments to shift more of the funding to assist COVID-19 vaccination efforts, one of the surest ways to get kids back in school, bring the pandemic to an end, and eliminate the underlying need for aid.

Republican members also offered commonsense proposals to ensure accountability and eliminate waste, in addition to changes simply to ensure that Chinese government-owned entities can’t profit from a single dollar in this measure. The majority rejected every Republican amendment out of hand.

Now, this measure has been merged with other partisan committee budget pieces and is being considered in the House this week. Once again, Republicans are being forced out of the decisions about how to spend $1.9 trillion of the taxpayers’ money. I fail to see how this process conforms with President Biden’s pledged desire to work across the aisle for the American people.

This same one-sided, “my way or the highway” approach also resulted in last year’s failure in Congress to pass a desperately needed, long-term surface transportation law to fund highway, bridge, and transit improvements. This was a drastic departure from the Committee’s traditionally bipartisan approach to infrastructure bills.

We need a return to bipartisanship. And despite this week’s partisan use of the budget reconciliation process by the House majority, I want to reiterate that Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans stand ready to work together in good faith on infrastructure legislation in the coming months.

Two weeks ago, President Biden also indicated his intent to work across the aisle on infrastructure in an Oval Office meeting with bipartisan Senate leaders and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. I believe that’s a positive sign, and I believe we can find common ground.

Partnership — not partisanship — is Congress’ path to improving our infrastructure. With a critical surface transportation reauthorization and other potential infrastructure legislation before us this Congress, working together is the surest path to our mutual goal of improving America’s transportation network.

• Sam Graves, a Republican U.S. representative from Missouri, serves as the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His role in transportation is critical as he works on behalf of Missouri’s 34,000 highway miles and 10,400 bridges in need of maintenance and repair as well as the 6th Congressional District’s two major rivers the Missouri and the Mississippi. Rep. Graves is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.


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