“The ports and the maritime programs are essential for economic growth,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Balart (pictured above), R-Fla., during Wednesday’s markup. “Let me talk a little bit about infrastructure. For a number of years, we’ve been saying that this is the infrastructure bill. I’m hopeful that there may be another infrastructure bill elsewhere, but the one thing we can count on is this being the real infrastructure bill as it moves forward.”
The appropriations bill provides $86.6 billion in total budgetary resources for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is $167 million above the 2019 enacted level and $3.7 billion above the president’s budget request.
The legislation includes $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) transportation grant program, $100 million above 2019 enacted levels and equal to the president’s budget request; $1.75 billion for discretionary Highway Infrastructure Programs, down $1.5 billion from 2019 enacted levels and $1.45 billion above the budget request; $500 million for discretionary airport improvement grants, equal to 2019 enacted levels and $500 million above the budget request; and $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program, a $95 million increase over 2019 enacted levels and $20 million above the budget request.
“I’m pleased that this bill has many infrastructure investments that are so important to all the communities that we serve,” full committee Ranking Member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said. “It includes investments for BUILD grants, for innovative transportation projects, airport grants, highway and bridge upgrades, port infrastructure. These investments not only improve the safety and quality of life for the traveling public, but also promote economic growth through reducing congestion and facilitating commerce.”
She said she had issues with several policy provisions in the bill, including the prevention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from modifying fuel efficiency standards and a provision that she said would prevent DOT from “implementing a reasonable uniform national standard for truck driving meal and rest requirements.”
“Without that frankly we’re dealing with fake numbers,” Diaz-Balart said. “It has to be a top line number that’s negotiated between the House, the Senate and signed by the president. Until then we’re dealing with frankly in essence false numbers. We know that numbers that will never become law.”
He added: “We are lucky ... to have [Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowery, D-N.Y.] and Ranking Member Granger working toward real numbers.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., also mentioned the lack of a budgetary caps deal with the president.
Discussions between White House officials and congressional leaders on Tuesday about a two-year budget deal that would suspend the debt ceiling ended without a deal, The Washington Post reported. A Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline “will roughly coincide with when Congress needs to raise the nation’s borrowing limit or reach default,” the article reads.
“I am, though, reminding those people that rely on the numbers that we will eventually come up with that this is a starting point but it’s not the end result,” Womack said. “I sure hope when they go back and start doing their planning these agencies that rely on this funding that they recognize the difficulty in going from where we are today to where we’re actually going to end up.”
The full committee markup is scheduled for the first week after Congress returns from its Memorial Day week recess, subcommittee chairman David Price, D-N.C., said.