Major legislative victories have been elusive for Congress so far this year. However, there is potential for a successful infrastructure package from Congress within the next six months.
The key is to take legislative initiatives that have already started and knit them together to demonstrate a commitment to infrastructure and to bolster infrastructure investments.
FAA Re-authorization: The authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires at the end of September and all signs indicate that Congress will only pass a short-term extension to prevent a lapse in the authorization. This means Congress will need to act again soon to keep the FAA in business. This subsequent re-authorization could act as a major plank of an infrastructure package because the FAA bill is typically a strong bipartisan bill that provides important funding for airports and other infrastructure. In the name of expediency, Congress would be wise to avoid controversial policy changes – like the privatization of the Air Traffic Control system -- that would potentially slow down the package.
Water Resources Development Act (WDRA): The Water Development Resources Act provides legislative authorization for water projects across the country. These include flood control, navigation, irrigation, and recreation assets. This law is due for reconsideration next year. A water infrastructure bill could be another key part of an all-encompassing infrastructure package.
Regulatory Reform: Both the administration and Congress have been focused on enacting regulatory reform in an effort to expedite development. Adding reform provisions to the infrastructure package would be a solid third plank to the package without adding to the price tag.
Roads and Bridges: You can’t have a serious infrastructure bill without addressing surface transportation. Congress will need to include a piece for highways, roads, bridges, and mass transit. For quick approval, lawmakers would be well served to fund depleted grant programs instead of creating major new programs. While a small increase in the federal gas tax may be controversial, this is the easiest path for achieving the funds needed for this part of the program. In the larger context of the infrastructure investment package, the bill could still garner bipartisan support.
Infrastructure is a priority across the political spectrum. This approach provides funding and support to three key areas of interest – airports, highways, and waterways. Combined with regulatory reform, this package would provide an opportunity for Congress to achieve an important legislative goal that also resonates with voters.