U.S. House approves $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill but outlook uncertain

FILE PHOTO: Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) speaks during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package on Wednesday by a 233-to-188 vote to boost spending on roads, bridges, public transit and rail, but the White House and Senate Republicans opposed the measure.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the Democrat who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the vote showed a House majority was “willing to fight for a new vision” that “deals with the incredibly deteriorated infrastructure in this country.”

Republican Senator John Barrasso, who chairs the Environment and Public Works committee, responded by saying the House bill “is a dead end and has no chance of becoming law. It’s a road to nowhere.”

The bill dedicates nearly $500 billion for surface transportation needs, $130 billion for school infrastructure, $70 billion to improve the electric grid, $100 billion on housing, $100 billion to expand broadband internet and $30 billion on healthcare facilities.

Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation spending. Four months before the November presidential election, it is increasingly unlikely Congress will strike a compromise deal to pay for a big spending jump and will instead temporarily extend existing funding.

Barrasso’s Senate panel in July 2019 authorized $287 billion in surface transportation spending over five years, up 27% from the previous budget, but the full Senate and other committees have yet to act.

Reuters reported on June 16 the Trump administration was preparing a potential $1 trillion infrastructure package focused on transportation projects, but two senior administration officials said Wednesday it was unclear if or when it would disclose its proposal.

A White House spokeswoman did respond to requests for comment.

Congress abandoned requiring road users to pay for most road repairs and has not hiked the federal gasoline tax since 1993. Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund. To maintain existing spending levels, Congress will need to find $107 billion over five years, government auditors say.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang