House Approves $715 Billion Transportation, Water Bill

(AP) — The Democratic-led House approved a sizable $715 billion transportation bill, a potential investment in roads, rail, public transit and water over five years that could serve as a marker in the negotiations over a bipartisan infrastructure package.

The bill passed largely along party lines by a vote of 221-201. Just two Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the package.

The House bill contained about $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety programs, $109 billion for transit, $95 billion for rail and nearly $170 billion for water and wastewater projects. The House adopted dozens of amendments Wednesday and Thursday that Democratic lawmakers projected will increase the overall cost of the bill by about $44 billion with most of that increase going to the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators have already agreed to a blueprint for a new infrastructure package, but it has not yet been turned into legislation. House Democrats will be pushing to include many of their bill’s provisions when Congress negotiates the broader bipartisan product this summer.

The primary author of the House bill, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the investment being proposed would allow the country to repair bridges, roads and tunnels, thereby increasing the country’s economic competitiveness while also tackling what he called the country’s “new existential challenge, which is climate change.”

“We have to rebuild in ways that we never even thought about before. It’s going to be expensive, but the good news is, it is going to create millions, millions of good paying jobs,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio said he was encouraged by the bipartisan Senate blueprint. The proposed spending levels for roads, bridges and public transit are comparable to what is called for in the House bill, he said, though the spending for rail and water infrastructure is far short of the House’s bill, which calls for tripling spending for Amtrak as well as $45 billion for the replacement of water lines containing lead.

The legislation provides a potential building block toward Biden’s broader infrastructure proposals. It serves as a starting point for some of the public works investments under discussion, but leaves the decision about how to pay for them for another day.

The House proposal also includes elements designed to counter climate change. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. In addition to funding the charging stations to speed and ease an increased use of electric vehicles, the House bill seeks to make alternatives to driving more attractive by boosting funding for public transit and rail.

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