Republicans, Democrats divided over House highway bill

June 9, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee called out a highway bill for its lack of bipartisanship during a markup hearing on Wednesday, June 9.

Last week, the House T&I Committee unveiled the five-year, $547 billion INVEST in America Act. The bill is similar to last year’s HR2 highway bill that ultimately failed in the Senate.

“Our Republican proposal provided increased and historic levels of funding – moving toward the majority’s position in that regard – but today’s bill moved further away from a compromise by adding yet another 11% increase over their bill last year,” said Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the T&I committee.

House T&I chair Peter DeFazio, however, said passage of the bill is critical. The current surface reauthorization bill expires at the end of September.

“America’s surface transportation infrastructure is in crisis,” DeFazio, D-Ore., said. “Our roads, bridges, public transit and rail systems are badly outdated, causing stress and safety hazards for our citizens, strain on our economy, and an enormous toll on public health and our planet. At the same time, other nations are out-investing us, and moving people and goods faster, cleaner and better than ever.”

Highway bill amendments

The debate over the general partisanship of the bill consumed the majority of the markup hearing well into Wednesday.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, the committee was still waiting to consider a number of amendments to the bill.

One of those amendments, which is extremely important to small-business truckers, was Rep. Mike Bost’s proposal to strip a minimum insurance increase on motor carriers from the bill.

The original version of the Invest in America Act included a measure to increase minimum liability insurance from $750,000 to $2 million.

OOIDA’s stance

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association called the insurance increase a “poison pill” to the highway bill and supported Bost’s amendment.

OOIDA sent a Call to Action to its members on Wednesday, June 9, asking them to call their representatives to ask them to vote for the amendment.

“Beginning today, your representative in the U.S. House will vote on a number of trucking related provisions, including whether or not to increase your minimum insurance requirements from $750,000 to $2 million,” OOIDA wrote. “Your representative has a choice – to stand with truckers and remove harmful provisions from the House highway bill or continue burdening small businesses with costly mandates.”

OOIDA also was lending support to amendments to eliminate personal conveyance mileage or time limits, as well as to strike a potential side underride guard mandate, a sleep apnea screening mandate, and an automatic emergency braking mandate. The Association also supports amendments to stop FMCSA from using electronic logging devices for “research” and one that would prohibit and penalize the act of staging crashes.

In addition, OOIDA opposes amendments that would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce and one that would increase maximum truck weights for logging vehicles.

Although OOIDA opposed several measures in the original highway bill, the Association is extremely supportive of the proposal’s provision to provide $1 billion over five years to address the nation’s truck parking crisis. LL

TBS

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.