Likely new chairman feeling a White House vibe
WASHINGTON » The likely new chairman of the House Transportation Committee hears renewed talk from the White House about investment in infrastructure and he jokes about Lucy always pulling away the football just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it.
“This is not going to get done without strong support from the president,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who will probably become chairman of the committee when the Democrats take control of the House in January. “The president is going to have to be fully on board if we’re going to move something in the Senate.”
President Donald Trump, as a candidate in 2016, made investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure a key part of his campaign. After winning the White House, DeFazio said, Trump came under the influence of advisers who told him big projects could be funded by selling off infrastructure to private firms and attracting private capital.
“That could work in very few places,” DeFazio said, “and not resolve any of our major national issues.”
Those advisers no longer work in the administration. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s midterm elections where Democrats won control of the House, DeFazio was asked whether he thought Trump was sincere about pumping money into infrastructure. “Yes,” he said. Then he elaborated.
“Trump is a builder. He gets it,” DeFazio said. “The president got that as a candidate. He got derailed by the (economic advisers) he brought on board.”
DeFazio also declined to rule out a return to earmarks, a process in which members funded pet projects in their districts, bypassing the Department of Transportation or other federal agencies that normally control such funding.
The push to invest billions — DeFazio suggested $500 billion — in infrastructure comes less than a year after a Republican Congress passed a sweeping tax cut that is projected to add more than $1 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.
DeFazio said the White House “had a finger in the wind” and dispatched an emissary to meet with him before Tuesday’s election.
“I would hope that we could have (an infrastructure) package through the House in six months, before we get into the silliness of the presidential election year,” DeFazio said.
After 31 years in Congress, DeFazio said he knows “there’s myriad ways” to come up with transportation funding.
“It has to be real,” he said. “We’re not going to do pretend stuff, like asset recycling, we’re not going to do massive privatization.”
He suggested a path to allow bond sales for infrastructure improvement to roads, highways, bridges and transit, with the money to be repaid by indexing the federal tax on gas and diesel fuel.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, appears headed to become the next House Transportation Committee chair.