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Highway Bill Passes First Hurdle in the House

  • Legislation authorizing roughly $547 billion for highways and other surface transportation over five years advanced in a House panel, despite opposition from Republicans who objected to what they called Green New Deal climate initiatives.

    The legislation (H.R. 3684) would authorize $343 billion for roads, bridges, and safety, $95 billion for passenger and freight rail, and $109 billion for transit. It aligns with many of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure priorities.

    Working into the wee hours on amendments, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee adjourned early Thursday after approving the measure on a 38-26 vote. Only Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania) and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (Puerto Rico) voted with Democrats in support of the bill.

    Included in the bill were three motorcycle related priorities that also made it into the 2020 version of this same bill.

    1. Expanded prohibition on motorcycle only check points, including prohibiting using the clothing or apparel of riders or their passengers to profile or target bikers.
    2. Reestablishment of the Motorcyclist Advisory Council, which gives bikers a voice within the Federal Highway Administration. Included in the bill, a seat on the council is specifically designated for a “representative of a national motorcycle foundation.”
    3. Inclusion of motorcycles as a specific category that autonomous vehicle studies must account for during the testing of this new technology. Additionally, a motorcyclist rights organization is assigned a seat on an autonomous vehicle working group at the U.S.


    The House Ways and Means Committee now must take up the bill to determine the funding mechanism for the $547 billion the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee just authorized. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on final passage in late June or early July.

     

    Pet Projects Return

    For the first time in a decade “earmarks” returned to the House of Representatives. An earmark is an allocation of government funds directed at specific recipients. These recipients are determined by Congress and it limits the discretion of the executive branch agencies in dispersing funds.

    In other words, Congress specifically says which projects get money and how much. This is sometimes referred to as “bringing home the bacon” or “pork barrel spending.” Individual lawmakers steer federal money back to their districts for specific named projects. The highway bill was long a baston of earmarks with the 2005 version of the bill featured 5,671 of them.

    However, famous earmarks like the “Bridge to Nowhere” lead to criticism of the process and eventually earmarks were banned in 2011.

    Earlier this year, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced that starting this year House lawmakers would be able to request funds for specific projects in the next highway bill.

    Proponents of earmarks have long argued they help “grease the wheels” in Congress enticing lawmakers to support legislation because they have skin in the game. They also argue as Rep. DeFazio said, “The discretion to fund projects should not be reserved for State or Federal bureaucrats,” adding “Elected representatives know the infrastructure needs of their district and should be allowed to identify projects and advocate on behalf of their constituents in legislation.”

    However, concerns about corruption as well as wasteful and excessive spending have led many to resist the temptation of earmarks.

    The bill passed this week by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure included 5.7 billion in earmarks dedicated to 1,473 local project requests by lawmakers. The bill includes 1,067 projects from Democrats, 403 from Republicans, and three bipartisan ones.

    With many Republicans in the Senate opposed to earmarks it is unclear if a final highway bill will contain the nearly 1,500 projects that were included in the House bill. 

    All Information contained in this release is copyrighted. Reproduction permitted with attribution. Motorcycle Riders Foundation. All rights reserved. 

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