Passing Zone

Problem Solvers Aim to Pave Way for Infrastructure Bill

Blog Commentary by Executive Editor David Cullen

December 1, 2017

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Could an actual piece of infrastructure legislation soon appear on the horizon in Washington, DC?
Could an actual piece of infrastructure legislation soon appear on the horizon in Washington, DC?

The last we heard anything definitive about even just the extreme possibility that the Trump Administration and the GOP Powers That Be on Capitol Hill might be inching toward at least introducing infrastructure legislation was back in late October. 

That was thanks to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who offered a succinct update on where things then stood with that trillion dollar all-things-infrastructure package of public and private investment first floated as a priority by President Trump on the day after his election victory. 

In her October address to the American Trucking Associations’ annual meeting in Orlando, Chao stated that “You won’t see an infrastructure funding proposal until after Congress reforms the tax code.”

Then she admitted that she had at one point hoped to roll out the administration’s infrastructure plan in detail by “late fall” of this year. But the disaster that was the attempt to roll back Obamacare erased that timeline. Chao told the ATA audience that Congress was now focused on pushing through a rewrite of the outmoded federal tax code before the year is out. 

As of this writing, late in the afternoon of Dec. 1, the House has passed its tax-reform bill and the Senate is reportedly about to pass its version. Once that happens, the differences between the bills will have to be ironed out in committee before final legislation is sent to President Trump to sign.

The hell-for-leather and completely partisan path that has brought tax reform this far this fast may well deliver it by year’s end, as GOP leaders on Capitol Hill have promised their supporters and donors. 

Once tax reform is passed or shelved, although the latter result is far beyond unlikely, then perhaps the attention of Congress -- and even that of the mercurial POTUS -- might be shifted to fixing the abysmal state of the nation’s infrastructure. 

And there is some good news on that front, emanating from the House of Representatives, courtesy of a little-known group of moderate Congressmen. They hail from both sides of the aisle and in 2013 formed the Problem Solvers Caucus. Its aim is simple: To push for bipartisan solutions to legislative and policy issues. 

A letter sent by the Problem Solvers Caucus to President Trump earlier this year listed 35 members, 18 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The co-chairs of the group are Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

The caucus is readying a bipartisan report in the hope that it will serve as a blueprint for advancing President Trump’s infrastructure proposal on Capitol Hill, caucus members said on Nov. 30.

Just over the past two months, the caucus has held five meetings on infrastructure, including one with administration officials, to collect information on how best to forge a bipartisan path to rebuilding infrastructure.

According to a Dec. 1 Politico.com post, the Problem Solvers Caucus wants to "drive the agenda" on infrastructure, in the words of Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), co-chair of the caucus's infrastructure task force. He said the caucus aims to issue a report outlining its infrastructure approach "in the next week or two" so it will be ready for when tax reform is out of the way. "We're going to be loud about this," Katko said after the caucus’s Nov. 30 meeting. “We're going to be ready to roll."

At their most recent meeting, the caucus heard from former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, (R-IL ), who co-chair the advocacy group Building America’s Future, on potential funding mechanisms.

“What I said in there [was] this year has been a missed opportunity for infrastructure," LaHood told reporters after the meeting. "If this Congress, the White House, and the [GOP] leadership [on Capitol Hill] had started out with infrastructure and a way to pay for it, that bill would have been passed and hundreds of people would have been working on bridges and roads."

LaHood also remarked that he's spoken multiple times with White House infrastructure adviser DJ Gribbin and Secretary Chao, but said "they need a signal to do something, and that signal has been dark all year long."

It may just be that a wonky report soon to be issued by an obscure bipartisan band of lawmakers will strike the match needed to shed some very long overdue light on improving our nation’s road and bridges and all the rest of its infrastructure.

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Author Bio

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David Cullen

Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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