Beyond authorizing federal spending

Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled a $547 billion transportation funding package Friday that would ramp up spending on rail and transit, while encouraging states to repair existing roads rather than build new ones.

The biggest chunk of the bill is $343 billion for road and bridge construction, as well as highway safety, a boost of more than 50 percent over the last transportation bill Congress passed in 2015. It also calls for $109 billion for transit and $95 billion for rail — including a tripling of funding to Amtrak.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the committee, said the proposed legislation embodies a core piece of President Biden’s infrastructure plans, “seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future.”

Beyond authorizing federal spending, the five-year bill seeks to overhaul rules on how states and other transportation agencies can use the money, putting environmental goals at the forefront and seeking to curb the nation’s dominance of car travel.

The bill underscores a partisan divide on transportation policy, with Democrats and Republicans at odds on the federal role of supporting transit and the extent to which transportation spending should be targeted at combating climate change.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: We can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said.

Summer will be crucial for Biden’s legislative agenda. Here’s why.
President Biden and Congress have a narrow window this summer to pass legislation on infrastructure and other issues before a potential debt limit standoff. (Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

While the bill can expect a warm reception among House Democrats, who passed a similar proposal last year, it does not represent the bipartisan compromise that a Senate committee advanced last week. Republicans on the House committee, meanwhile, introduced their own proposal last month that is mostly focused on increasing road spending.

The Democratic bill doesn’t propose a way to pay for itself, which is typical, but the spending it outlines is far in excess of what the government is forecast to collect in taxes on gasoline and diesel that have historically been used to fund transportation.

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Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the National Institutes of Health of trying to suppress his department’s investigation into the true origins of the coronavirus pandemic, as until recently theories that the pathogen leaked from a Wuhan, China lab were often viewed as conspiratorial.

On “The Ingraham Angle,” Pompeo remarked that outside of typical pushback within his own department from people who didn’t like him or President Donald Trump, he was also dealing with “internal debate” from the National Institutes of Health.

“[NIH] folks were trying to suppress what we were doing at the State Department as well,” he said.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, an Obama appointee, recently said on Fox News’ “The Story” that he never ruled out a lab leak, but that it matched astrobiologist Carl Sagan’s mantra of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Pompeo also said Anthony Fauci, who runs the NIAID under the NIH umbrella, sounded like he was spreading Chinese government talking points in daytime interviews earlier Thursday:

Lindsey Graham calls on Fauci to testify before CongressVideo
“To hear Fauci this morning talk about how the Chinese have an interest in us discovering what happened is just crazy talk. The Chinese have a deep interest in covering it up. They have done so pretty darn effectively,” he said.

Fauci, 80, voiced “the exact same theories that the Chinese Communist Party has presented for over a year now,” said Pompeo, adding that such corollaries appear ill-timed:

“He implies good faith for the Chinese Communist Party: We are on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square [incident] For Dr. Fauci to go out and think the CCP cared that there were people in Wuhan who were dying… is just naïve beyond all possible imagination.”

Pompeo went on to back up reporting from Vanity Fair that said a State Department official named Miles Yu, who can speak Mandarin, was actively translating and “mirroring” documentation on the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s website in order to compile a dossier of questions about its research to the secretary.

Pompeo praised Yu, a former commander at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., saying that what Yu reported was “pretty clear.

“When I received that [dossier] it was in early May [2020]. I was on TV talking about what I could get declassified at that point. We worked diligently to get them to declassify more,” he said.

“[Then-DNI Director John Ratcliffe] was a great partner in trying to do that. But there were folks all over the community who did not want to talk about this … who did not want the world to know the Chinese Communist Party was in the process of covering up several million losses of life,” the former Kansas congressman said.

The committee is scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday, a date the White House says it’s watching as Biden negotiates with Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), over a broader infrastructure deal. The two sides are split on how much to spend and how to pay for it, but Biden and Capito are scheduled to talk Friday after meeting at the White House earlier in the week.

The House bill adopts some of the ideas Biden set out in his initial $2.3 trillion proposal. It includes a $3 billion fund aimed at undoing harms caused by urban highway construction, which often divided Black neighborhoods. It also would invest $4 billion in electric vehicle-charging infrastructure.

The proposed transit funding is aimed tackling a maintenance backlog, expanding service and promoting the development of housing near transit hubs. Some rail funding would be used to spur development of high-speed rail. In both cases, spending is aimed at reducing congestion on roads by giving people alternate ways to get around and cutting carbon emissions.

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the committee’s rail panel, said the bill would “bring America’s aging rail infrastructure into the 21st century.”

The bill is also set to include $14.8 billion for earmarks, projects backed by individual members of Congress. That practice was scrapped a decade ago, but it has been revived by House leaders who argue that lawmakers understand the particular needs of their communities.–166095942/–166095945/–166096380/–166096645/–166096917/–166097008/–166097408/

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