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Guest on The Infra Blog: Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee

Posted by Steve Anderson on Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Congressman Peter DeFazioCongressman Peter DeFazio was first elected to the U.S. Congress in 1986 and is now the longest serving House member in Oregon’s history.  As the dean of the Oregon House delegation, he has developed a reputation as an independent, passionate and effective lawmaker.

In 2014, DeFazio was elected to the powerful position of Ranking Member on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, highways and transit, water resources, railroads, aviation, and economic development.

DeFazio has served as a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee since he first entered Congress in 1987. During his time on the Committee, he has served as Chairman or Ranking Member of four of the six subcommittees: Aviation, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Highways and Transit, and Water Resources and Environment. DeFazio has taken a lead role on several multi-billion dollar surface transportation and FAA reauthorization bills, and worked to strengthen Buy America standards. In 2005, DeFazio served as the Ranking Member on the Highways Subcommittee where he helped negotiate a five-year federal highway and transit spending bill called SAFETEA-LU. Under the bill DeFazio secured $2.7 billion for Oregon’s roads, bridges, highways and transit systems. More recently, DeFazio introduced the Repeal and Rebuild Act (HR 4848), a long-term solution to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

The Bipartisan Maze of Infrastructure Funding
Unfortunately, we don’t have capital budgets and the hardline republicans look at every dollar spent as the same. If we spend a dollar for fuel to put into a vehicle that’s consumed, that’s an operating cost; they count that exactly the same as a dollar spent to build a bridge that would last 100 years…Dwight David Eisenhower gave us the National Highway Plan and a user fee and it worked great. Unfortunately there is now both confusion over the value of the investment—we need to keep educating people on that—and then secondly there’s just an ideological objection to any kind of user fee or increase.

Congress Needs More Pressure to Solve the Problem
I can go to virtually any community in my district—and our infrastructure is in better shape in Oregon than most of the country—and talk about the need to invest and the jobs we could create and how to make us more efficient. The most conservative chambers of Congress will say “yeah, you’re right.”…I said this in committee: “Raise your hand if you think that gas went up 1.5 cents a gallon next year, you’d lose your election?” Nobody raised their hand. In fact 11 republican states have raised their state gas tax either at the pump or at a wholesale level and there’ve been no recalls, no lost elections, no public outcry.

Republican Support Is Growing
We have made progress. During the debate over the long-term surface transportation bill I kept throwing out ideas, and I had a number of Republicans say to me “Look, I’m not going to cosponsor your idea or your bill but if you can get it on the floor I’ll vote for it.” And I think that’s the reality here…So our problem is really at the top in the Republican Party here, an absolute denial that we need this and that it would be good for the country and the American people and probably not bad for their party, either.

Clinton or Trump, There’s Hope for the Future
I think she has spoken strongly to the idea that we need to invest in our infrastructure, to become more competitive in the world economy, to be more efficient here at home in terms of moving our people and our goods, and actually it can help with climate change and wasted fuel. There’s nothing bad to say about making these investments, and actually I believe that Donald Trump has also made some pretty strong statements about infrastructure, so maybe there’s a bipartisan agreement there and maybe if that becomes a topic during the presidential it will create a space for the next Congress no matter who’s president to actually go there.

Citizens Need to Push Representatives for Infra
They need to speak up, speak out. They need to contact their members of congress, their senators. They need to particularly weigh in in an election year and, go to a debate, or ask them a question as publicly as you can, “what are you going to do to fix Americas infrastructure?” And put people back to work and restore this country as a leader in the world in infrastructure as opposed to someone who’s crashing toward the bottom as it decays more quickly than we’re repairing it. So I really think that we just have to turn this into an election-year issue and the more people speak out the safer it becomes for people who are on the margin…

Download full transcript (PDF): Peter DeFazio on The Infra Blog

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One Response to “Guest on The Infra Blog: Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee”

  1. jerry schneider says:

    Columbus Ohio just won a national US DOT Smart City challenge, defeating Portland and 4 other cities. As a result they were awarded $50 million to make smart improvements in their urban transportation activities. However, in Portland, our leaders are trying to sell us another light rail line at a cost of multiple billions. In Columbus, the leaders have opted to “leap-frog” light rail in favor of much smarter options, instead of going with conventional, massively expensive, unreliable and poorly performing light rail. Too bad DeFazio is stuck in the past and doesn’t understand that a revolution in urban transportation is well underway and he’s behind the upward curve. Perhaps he should visit Columbus and try to get up to speed.

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