Alaska Rep. Don Young jumped into the federal infrastructure legislation debate on Thursday, proposing an alternative framework for a large-scale plan that could gain congressional consensus.
“ ... I do believe there is a way forward, and today I am submitting my own infrastructure framework,” Young said in a prepared statement. “I call on my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to seriously consider my proposals. I'm ready to do serious work on behalf of Americans in every corner of our country.”
Young’s announcement came after the White House earlier this week ended negotiations with Senate Republicans regarding President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal and shifted talks to a bipartisan group of senators. According to news reports, Biden remains focused on achieving a landmark infrastructure bill, but support among some Democrats is fraying while opposition among Republicans — many of whom are unhappy with the size and scope of Biden’s proposal — remains strong. How to pay for it remains an issue, as well.
Young’s announcement of Thursday addressed those issues, and again highlighted his experience in the passage of major infrastructure legislation in 2005 when he was serving as chair of the House Transportation Committee.
“I know how to get this done,” Young said in the statement. “This country NEEDS an infrastructure package. I want my colleagues in the House and Senate to know that infrastructure investment is an existential issue for our economy's long-term strength. Without strong infrastructure, our global competitiveness is on the line. We must not risk falling behind the rest of the world.”
Young is proposing a $1.25 trillion plan, which includes a $500 billion, five-year, surface transportation reauthorization bill that covers roads, bridges, transit, rail and safety categories.
His five-year reauthorization legislation plan calls, in part, for a onetime increase in federal motor fuel excise tax for gas and diesel, helping to put the federal Highway Trust Fund on a “trajectory” for long-term solvency. Young also calls for the legislation to include project financing, and “delivery and permitting reforms to ensure that additional federal investments are not mired in bureaucracy and litigation.”
The other portion of Young’s proposed framework is $750 billion in supplemental appropriations for airports, ports and waterways, water infrastructure, broadband, and electrical generation and grid modernization. This category also would include “congressionally directed project spending” — also known as earmarks.
Earmarks returned to the congressional appropriations mix this year after a decade-long ban of the practice was ended.
Young supports their use.
“Members of Congress are closest to their constituencies and understand their needs better than the federal government agencies that currently award federal infrastructure monies through existing formulas or competitive grant programs,” Young’s statement said, noting that the recent return of the community project funding and “Member Designated Projects have “drawn significant interest from members and, when paired with strong disclosure and ethics requirements, these are a valuable way to demonstrate the value of federal investment in member’s districts.”
Young also supports an increase of no more than 4% to the corporate tax rate, which would not apply to small and family owned businesses, according to his statement. The increase would help pay for some of the legislation’s costs, and recognizes that corporations use and benefit from U.S. infrastructure.
We don’t know whether Young’s proposed framework will find any traction among his congressional peers. In any case, he should be applauded for making the recommendations.
It’s easy for senators and representatives who aren’t directly part of a process to throw stones from a distance. But Young has chosen a more constructive path, drawing on his decades of congressional experience in general, and his specific experience in shepherding major transportation legislation through Congress. He knew how to get things done then, and — especially with the return of earmarks — sees a path to getting things done now.
His statement on Thursday urged Congress to move forward via the “budget reconciliation process,” and expressed hope that Biden won’t give up on negotiations.
Recognizing the tremendous need for revitalized infrastructure in the U.S., Congress and the president should pay attention to a voice of experience.