May 2017

Chao Joins Congress in Refusing to Pick Infrastructure Projects

By Jacob Fischler
     CQ Roll Call


Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s statement Wednesday that the administration’s infrastructure proposal won't include a list of projects to fund raised questions on Capitol Hill about how projects will be selected, especially because the Republican majority has agreed to ban congressional earmarks.

In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, Chao said certain projects unable to generate private investment would be given priority for direct federal funding that she said would be up to $200 billion under President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan.

At a May 17 hearing at Senate Environment and Public Works, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, questioned how the determination would be made and what types of projects would be eligible.

Chao responded that the administration will not compile its own list, but didn’t specify how the priority projects would be selected. She said her comment at the chamber was meant to address concerns that rural areas would be excluded from a plan that relies on private investment.

“We will not specify any list of projects or anything like that,” Chao told the committee. “My remarks wanted to confirm and to reassure that this administration understands the needs of rural America. And as we go forward, we need to find some way to address the needs of rural America with other financing mechanisms that may work for urban areas but not for rural areas.”

Lawmakers said they were unsure how that process would work. “There’s really a lot of ways you can do that,” said Mario Diaz-Balart, the chairman of House Appropriations Transportation-HUD panel. “And clearly, that has not been determined.”

View Proceedings.

Trump has pledged to steer $1 trillion over 10 years into the nation’s infrastructure. He has broadly defined it to include the energy grid, broadband and Veterans Affairs hospitals as well as transportation. The federal government would spend $200 billion, with the rest coming from private investment spurred by tax breaks.

Chao said this week the administration would reveal the principles of an infrastructure plan within the next “several weeks,” and would send a full legislative package in the third quarter.

Reprinted from Roll Call, May 17.

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