Asked how the first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s term have gone so far, from his point of view, Rep. Peter DeFazio said, “Obviously it’s very much a work in progress.”
DeFazio’s major focus continues to be transportation and infrastructure. He’d like to see a trillion dollars of investment in the country’s infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure was also something Trump championed during his campaign, but DeFazio said there’s actually an internal struggle at the White House over whether they are “going to fake it or do it.”
He hopes for the latter.
Toward that end, the Springfield Democrat has reached across the aisle to partner with Republicans — including members of the hard right Freedom Caucus — to introduce three transportation bills.
DeFazio stopped by The News-Review Wednesday to talk to reporters about those bills and other federal legislation that could impact Douglas County residents. He has held several town halls around Southern Oregon this week, though none in Douglas County.
Unlike Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, who’s faced some angry crowds at recent town halls, DeFazio said he has been met with friendly crowds. He attributes that largely to their differences on health care. Walden helped write the Republican Obamacare replacement bill that failed in March, while DeFazio opposed it.
The Republican plan wasn’t so much a health care bill as it was a tax cut disguised as a health care bill, DeFazio said.
Obamacare provides subsidies for lower and middle-income workers through a 3 percent surcharge on income over $200,000 a year. The Republicans’ plan would have given a person earning $1 million per year a $30,000 tax break, while a 64-year-old who is not yet eligible for Medicare and earns $30,000 a year would see the premium go from $1,700 to $14,000 a year— about half the person’s income, DeFazio said.
The Congressional Budget Office, whose head was appointed by Republicans, said 24 million people would lose their insurance under the Republican plan, which was scrapped last month due to opposition from both the left and the right.
DeFazio’s district, which includes Lane County as well as Douglas and other Southern Oregon counties, contains the fifth largest number of people on the expanded Medicaid provided by Obamacare of any district in America. Walden’s district has the second highest number of people on expanded Medicaid in the country.
“I think that kind of explains the difference in the reception at the town halls. I was greeted with applause and Greg had kind of a tough week, shall we say,” DeFazio said.
DeFazio is the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He doesn’t just want to patch up the highways. He said 140,000 bridges on the national highway system need replaced or repaired, and 40 percent of the national highway system needs to be totally rebuilt, both road bed and surface. Privatizing or charging tolls to use the roads, as suggested by some Republicans, won’t solve the problem, he said.
The first of three bills he’s recently introduced would mandate that harbor maintenance taxes already being collected actually be spent on harbor maintenance. Currently, some of the money is being diverted by Congress for other purposes. The second bill would improve some of the more dismal airports around the country — airports that Trump has called “dumps.” The third bill would restore the country’s highways, bridges and transit.
Airport improvements would be paid for by a $1 or $2 per ticket fee under DeFazio’s bill. Airlines oppose the bill. DeFazio argues that’s because expanded airports would allow for more gates to be built, and increased competition.
DeFazio calls his highways, bridges and transit proposal a “penny for progress” bill because he would index the gas and diesel tax, but cap increases at 1.5 cents per gallon per year. The projected income would be used to issue about $500 billion in bonds over the next 14 years.
“We’re borrowing money, but we have a way to pay for it,” he said.
All three bills have Republican co-sponsors.
The construction projects in these bills would create jobs, not only in construction but in manufacturing, high technology and in other areas that provide materials and services used in the construction, DeFazio said.
DeFazio is adopting a wait-and-see approach on whether timber management on O&C timberlands will change under new leadership. He noted that both Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and new Oregon-Washington BLM director Jamie Connell are from Montana, where DeFazio said efforts at balanced timber management have been more successful. He wants to see a science-based approach to harvests.
DeFazio has repeatedly introduced bills to increase harvests on O&C lands, which have historically provided vital funding to county governments. Those bills have passed in the House but died in the Senate. He anticipates a new bill will be introduced in June, but said he couldn’t predict what will happen to it in the Senate.