Will They or Won’t They?

Despite the administration’s optimism that Congress can vote on an infrastructure package before the election in November, there are hints that indicate otherwise. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a key figure in determining whether we see legislation this year, delivered a recent speech in which he indicated that Congress is more likely to pass an “infrastructure package” as a series of smaller bills, including the must-pass FAA Reauthorization and Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This is not a surprising revelation. There were early indications signaling that Congress could go this way (e.g. calling a series of work otherwise scheduled an infrastructure package), but this was the first time this strategy was publicly acknowledged by congressional leadership.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), who has recently pushed hard for an infrastructure package and an increase in the federal gas tax, acknowledges that a package that garners enough bipartisan support to secure passage is unlikely prior to the election. He believes something can happen in the “lame duck” period after the election, but there are reasons to doubt this outcome as well. Shuster also described the administration’s proposal to pay for a broader infrastructure package with cuts in funding for transit, rail, and TIGER grants as “smoke and mirrors.”

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) sent a similar message concerning the administration’s infrastructure proposal during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing yesterday attended by five cabinet secretaries (Transportation, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, and Energy). Thune stressed the overwhelming need for a “significant source of revenue” to support their push for a $200 billion investment, a sentiment echoed by several committee senators. The administration would not take a side on the pay-for question, placing everything on the table but not pushing for a specific solution.

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