By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a proposed $760 billion infrastructure spending bill over five years that aims to rebuild sagging roads and bridges and reduce carbon pollution.
The proposal is intended to get U.S. President Donald Trump to return to the bargaining table. Trump campaigned in 2016 on boosting infrastructure spending by at least $1 billion over a decade but focused first on tax cuts and health care reform after taking office.
“There’s so many ways we can deal with the climate crisis by solving our congestion and infrastructure crisis,” said Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In April, Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, without hashing out a way to pay for it. Weeks later, Trump abruptly canceled a follow-up meeting after criticizing congressional investigations.
The Democrats’ plan calls for new spending on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, water, internet expansion, electric grids, aviation and “brownfield” land that was possibly contaminated after previous industrial use.
Democrats want to spend $329 billon over five years on surface transportation, with a focus on fixing the 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges. They would also provide $1.5 billion to support the development of an electric vehicle charging network.
Democrats said they did not want to discuss how to pay for the improvements until they reached a deal with the White House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they would vote on a plan “when we’re ready.”
The White House criticized the Democrats’ plan as being “far from bipartisan.”
“In contrast, The White House is encouraged by the bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate and believes it to be a good starting point to tackling this issue for the American people,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
With a presidential election looming, many doubt Congress will be able to tackle infrastructure this year but lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation spending.
A Senate panel in July voted to authorize $287 billion in federal government spending over five years on surface transportation needs, a 27% jump, but Congress has not been able to agree on how to pay for it.
Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee said in a statement they believe Congress can pass infrastructure legislation this year; they argue Congress must find a new way to fund road repairs since existing gasoline tax revenue has not kept pace.
Congress abandoned the practice of largely requiring road users to pay for road repairs and has not hiked the federal gas tax since 1993. Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund.
To maintain existing spending, Congress will need to find $107 billion over five years, government auditors say.
Democrats would invest $105 billion in transit, $55 billion in rail spending and $30 billion in airport investments. They would also dedicate $86 billion to expand internet access.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill and Chizu Nomiyama)