House approves transportation bill; most Republicans reject it despite contributing billions in earmarks
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The INVEST in America Act is one component of Democrats' overarching infrastructure goals and spends $759 billion on surface transportation and water projects, including new roads, bridges, railways and replacing lead drinking water pipes.
Democrats touted the plan as a pathway to make overdue investments, create "millions" of jobs and tackle climate change.
"This five-year surface transportation reauthorization and water infrastructure package would make long-overdue repairs to our nation’s roads, bridges, rail, and transit, and it would also ensure clean, safe drinking water and address our nation’s aging wastewater infrastructure," House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement after Thursday's passage. "This package also makes transformational investments in building the infrastructure networks of the future, which will strengthen America’s global competitiveness."
Thursday's passage was notable in the House because it was the first major piece of legislation with earmarks since they were restored earlier this year. Both Republicans and Democrats embraced the return of pet projects and secured billions in so-called "member designated projects."
According to the final tally from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the legislation included 1,475 earmarked projects worth $5.649 billion. Democrats offered 1,069 of the projects and Republicans secured 403 earmarks.
Despite being successful in netting billions in hometown road and bridge projects, Republicans overwhelmingly rejected the final bill on Thursday. The vote was 221-201, with just two Republicans joining the Democrats.
Rep. Garrett Graves, R-La., unsuccessfully sought a nearly $1 billion earmark to fund a major bridge project in Louisiana but did manage to secure money for smaller infrastructure projects in his district. He said Republicans like him participated in the earmark process despite rejecting the overall bill for pragmatic reasons: money for transportation projects will be doled out this term either by the Biden administration or Congress and he'd prefer to have a say.
"So, do I like the page [of the bill] that has a few million dollars in projects for our people? Yeah, absolutely," Graves told Fox News. "But are there 1,400 other pages that I think are awful. Yeah, absolutely."
"I think the bill is really just a wholesale failure," Graves added.
Republicans complained the overarching legislation would drive up deficits and is too focused on climate change priorities. Republican leadership said the legislation is modeled after the "Green New Deal" and dubbed it a "spending boondoggle masquerading as an infrastructure bill" in a recent press release.
The price tag for the legislation was originally pegged at $715 billion but more than $44 billion was added during the amendment process this week to include additional spending on infrastructure, including electric vehicle charging stations and passenger rail grant programs.
House Democrats say this bill will serve as grounds for negotiations with the Senate if the upper chamber passes its roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan. Separately, President Biden and Democrats want to pass a multitrillion-dollar plan that invests in so-called human infrastructure, such as child care, health care and education.