Likely new chair­man feel­ing a White House vibe

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Ash­ley Halsey III The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

BLOOMBERG NEWS

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, ap­pears headed to be­come the next House Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee chair.

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