- The Washington Times
Friday, September 17, 2021

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio is being accused of breaking a key pledge that President Biden made to Senate lawmakers to secure passage of his bipartisan $1.2 infrastructure bill.

Mr. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, is maneuvering to include pet projects and partisan priorities within Mr. Biden‘s $3.5 trillion expansion of the federal safety net, after the items were left out of the smaller infrastructure bill. Most notably, the transportation chairman has loaded up the bigger package with increased funding for public transportation programs.

The “double-dipping” comes despite Mr. Biden promising GOP senators that his party would not double-cross them at a later date on the infrastructure bill’s top-line figures.

Republicans say Mr. DeFazio‘s conduct shows that House Democrats were never serious about working in a bipartisan fashion to fix the nation’s roads and bridges.

“The Senate and White House … were able to strike a deal by lowering the total cost and focusing on traditional infrastructure,” said Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the Transportation Committee. “The House [was] … sidelined throughout this process, and now the majority is going to try to make up for their lack of input on infrastructure through this $3.5 trillion spending bill.”

Mr. DeFazio‘s office did not immediately return requests for comment on this story.

In June, Mr. Biden promised a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers that if they struck an agreement on infrastructure, Democrats would not seek later adjustments via budget reconciliation. The process allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the Senate‘s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.

The pledge, according to infrastructure negotiators, was key in winning over wary Republicans.

“We would not have gotten the support of our colleagues … If we had the extensive negotiations and agreed on a number, and then he just came back and doubled the number,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican.

Mr. DeFazio has reneged on the promise. The transportation committee’s portion of the reconciliation package adds billions of dollars in extra funding to programs addressed within the infrastructure bill.

For instance, Mr. DeFazio has proposed to add $320 million to the territorial highway program. The bipartisan infrastructure package already has slated $240 million for the initiative.

Similarly, the transportation committee wants to spend $2.5 billion on development grants for ports and waterways in the $3.5 trillion plan. The infrastructure deal negotiated by Mr. Biden and the Senate includes $2.25 billion for that exact program.

Mr. DeFazio‘s biggest attempt to relitigate infrastructure spending deals with public transit. The transportation committee’s reconciliation measure includes an additional $10 billion for passenger rail. Mr. Biden‘s infrastructure deal earmarked $36 billion for high-speed rail through the federal-state partnership for the intercity passenger rail program.

GOP amendments that sought to stop the “double-dipping” were blocked by House Democrats earlier this week during a transportation committee markup.

“The majority’s partisan action today ensures the House will continue being completely sidelined on infrastructure,” said Mr. Graves. “Much of what was included in today’s partisan package will wind up on the cutting-room floor because it flouts the president’s agreement not to double-dip [and] revisits issues addressed in the Senate‘s infrastructure bill.”

Mr. DeFazio has defended his conduct, arguing that he never gave his backing to the pledge Mr. Biden made to Senate Republicans.

“I didn’t sign that agreement,” said Mr. DeFazio during a recent interview with The Washington Post.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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