House Democrats unveiled a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure investment framework Wednesday that aims to revamp the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems.
Among the proposal's objectives, it would repair or update vital infrastructure, provide targeted funding for communities and set a path toward zero carbon pollution from the transportation sector.
"It's past time for transformational investments to make our infrastructure smarter, safer and resilient to climate change, or else we will keep throwing money at an antiquated system that is only holding us and our economy back," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a news release. "The framework we released today is the launchpad we need to move forward on those transformational investments and curb carbon pollution."
The framework did not include information on where the money would come from to fund the investments.
On Tuesday, Republicans on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee outlined their infrastructure principles, which include reducing red tape in the project review and delivery process, addressing the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund and ensuring states have flexibility in determining where infrastructure dollars are spent.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement that while he doesn't agree with all the principles in the Democrats' plan, he expects to play "constructive role in the development of infrastructure bills" before Congress this year. "Any serious effort toward enacting infrastructure legislation must incorporate Republican principles as well," he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee hosted a hearing on "paving the way for funding and financing infrastructure investments."
Though Republicans and Democrats on the committee agreed the nation's infrastructure needs improvement, the two parties have different views on tax and environmental policy critical to passing legislation.
"Historically, infrastructure and highway bills have been passed with broad bipartisan support — and for obvious reasons," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the committee's ranking member, said in prepared remarks. "We need infrastructure, not tax increases on the American people or job-creating businesses. Proposals calling for the latter jeopardize any chance of attaining the former. We think our strong history of bipartisanship deserves better treatment than that."
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass, the committee's chairman, said tax-preferred bonds are one of our most powerful tools for investments in infrastructure and highlighted the Build America Bonds program, which expired in 2010. He said BABs offered a more efficient way to support state and local governments' borrowing costs. "This financing tool allowed state and local governments to broaden their investor bases," Mr. Neal said. "This, in turn, allowed them to undertake bigger, bolder projects."
In testimony before the committee, Philip Fischer, founder of eBooleant Consulting and former head of fixed income and municipal bond strategy, global banking and markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, suggested reviving the Build America Bonds program "to allow for financing of the pent-up infrastructure demand."
Other witnesses, like Juong Lee, director of policy and government relations for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said Congress should raise the federal gas tax to properly fund the Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax has not been raised since 1993.