Former lawmakers urge bipartisan push on infrastructure

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019

Former Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) urged Congress today to pass a broad infrastructure package.

Shuster, who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Crowley, who led the House Democratic Caucus, made the pitch to President Trump and Congress at a Bipartisan Policy Center event on infrastructure funding.

“The president of the United States has to be pounding this message every day. … Until he does that, there’s 535 voices out there,” Shuster said. “He ought to mention it. I wish he had said more in State of the Union.”

Trump briefly touched on infrastructure in his State of the Union address before pivoting to other topics, signaling that the White House had handed off the issue to Congress (Climatewire, Feb. 6).

Last year, Trump repeatedly touted a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, only to see talks fizzle on Capitol Hill. This year, the White House is sitting on the sidelines as leaders of both parties look to move a broad legislative package by late spring (E&E Daily, March 7).

Shuster, who chaired the Transportation panel for five years, also expressed confidence in Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), its current chairman.

“Peter knows how to cut a deal,” he said. “He knows he’s not going to get everything he wants. But I think he’s willing to sit at the table and say, ‘Let’s move something.'”

Crowley, who was upset by progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Democratic primary last year, noted that Democrats have been putting the spotlight on climate change in the 116th Congress.

He said advocates of the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate resolution from Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), will have to reconcile their ambitious policy goals with Republicans’ priorities for an infrastructure bill.

“I do think the emphasis [on climate change] is certainly much greater,” Crowley said. “I think there are going to be some of those dichotomies that exist.”

For instance, backers of the Green New Deal want to wean the United States off fossil fuels, he said. But that would mean ending the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles, which pay the federal gasoline tax that funds road and bridge repairs.

The idea of raising the gasoline tax has been gaining traction on Capitol Hill as a way of funding a broad infrastructure package, with even some Republicans getting on board.

Another funding option on the table is implementing a fee on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which would better account for the rising number of electric vehicles. EV owners don’t pay the gasoline tax, since their vehicles run on electricity.

Both Shuster and Crowley seemed receptive to transitioning to a VMT fee. Crowley even predicted that EVs would account for one-third of the global fleet by 2040. That’s a less bullish outlook than that of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which projects that EVs will reach 55 percent of car sales worldwide by 2040.

Crowley also noted that Congress has a short time window for moving an infrastructure bill before lawmakers start gearing up for the 2020 presidential election and the primaries.

“The presidential cycle is in 2020, but it’s already started, and we anticipate over 20 Democrats running for president right now,” he said. “And the president himself is focused on 2020. You see it in the tweets.”

Former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who served as House majority leader from 2011 to 2014, spoke on a second panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center event.

Cantor said he believes public-private partnerships are a viable funding option for an infrastructure bill. Trump’s plan last year faced criticism for relying too heavily on private-sector investment.

“I do think that there is … a duty upon the private sector to play a bigger role,” said Cantor, who’s now vice chairman of the investment bank Moelis & Co.

“Every conversation that I have with large institutional investors, both here and abroad — and especially those abroad — they want infrastructure investment opportunities here in the U.S.,” he added.