U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was one of only two Republicans to vote for a $547 billion surface infrastructure bill the GOP says is a bloated package of green giveaways and special-interest benefits.
The bill, H.R. 3684, is known as the INVEST in Aerica (Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation) Act, and is the surface transportation part of the national infrastructure spending plan — roads, rail and bridges. It passed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last week with Fitzpatrick’s support.
Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County congressman, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
However, Fitzpatrick has shown a maverick streak and has been named the most bipartisan congressman in the nation. He’s also enjoyed the backing of organized labor, which backs the INVEST Act — including a mandate that freight rail keep staffing artificially high to protect union jobs.
At a recent infrastructure roundtable hosted by InsdeSources, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with Fitzpatrick discussed the pending bill.
“I’m still hopeful that negotiations in the Senate might lead to something more workable, legislation that truly prioritizes America’s significant infrastructure needs without raising income taxes and pouring more money into partisan agendas,” said Crawford. “But this will require the (congresional0 majority and the White House to meet us in the middle rather than ram through legislation that lacks any Republican support or input.”
Republicans believe Democrats want to use this surface transportation bill as a platform for even more spending, largely on the non-traditional “infrastructure” social spending touted by Vice President Kamala Harris during her Pittsburgh visit on Monday.
Asked about the push to invest in high-speed passenger rail, which has proven to be a boondoggle in California, rather than in freight railway lines, Crawford said passenger railways along the northeast corridor are highly subsidized.
“If there’s a value there, if there’s an opportunity, if the market’s viable, let the private sector be the ones to lead the way on that. Any time you have the government propping up an industry, it probably means that industry is not market-driven,” said Crawford. “And so everywhere we’ve seen high-speed rail succeed, it’s heavily subsidized in those countries.”
Republicans had legitimate concerns about using the transportation funding bill as a way to regulate rail and other transportation industries, said panelist Ben Siegrist, director of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
“Some of the regulatory mandates in the INVEST Act related to mandatory crew size are going to introduce inefficiencies in the way that the freight system operates. That’s not something we see as either necessary or beneficial. In fact, it is the exact opposite,” Siegrist said.
The bill will “stifle innovation, hurt jobs, negatively impact rail fluidity and service, lead to a shift away from the rails and to a less-environmentally friendly mode of transportation, further congesting our highways. It’s a partisan product filled with special-interest policy and unnecessary operational requirements,” Crawford said.
Freight railroads provide excellent high-paying jobs with a Class 1 freight employee’s compensation averaging over $132,000 per year, he noted.
“On economic growth, freight rail’s economic impact in 2017 alone manifests itself in over 1.1 million jobs, $219.5 billion in economic output, $71.3 billion wages, and nearly $26 billion in total tax revenues on top of being the most fuel-efficient way to move freight over land,” he said.
The bill as written “will set back the industry at least a decade,” Crawford said.
Crawford noted a major bridge in Memphis currently closed due to structural problems as an example of misplaced priorities.
“This should be Exhibit A for why we need to invest in infrastructure,” said Crawford. “And yet it seems to have been lost on this initiative because they’ve chosen to focus more on a climate agenda. It’s not as though it’s a binary choice. You can achieve environmental goals and still invest in infrastructure.”
He added, “We already have environmentally friendly practices in place. We don’t need to further codify or add to that list when our infrastructure is crumbling around our feet.”
Crawford also jabbed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying Congress could have easily passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill under former President Donald Trump.
“She did not want to run the risk of a win for the Trump administration on infrastructure, so she withheld that and did not allow that to happen even though spending increased and she would not take yes for an answer,” Crawford said.