Will Congress pass an infrastructure bill in 2019?

By |  January 31, 2019

There’s a dire need for a tremendous influx of federal highway funds, but whether or not Republicans and Democrats can come to any agreement in 2019 is to be determined. Photo: iStock.com/kozmoat98

Very little is getting done in Washington these days.

The government shutdown lasted 35 days, with only a temporary three-week resolution to show for it. On its face, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the two sides can come together on anything over the next couple of years.

The aggregate industry, obviously, wants to see something done on infrastructure. President Trump floated a plan last year that would commit $200 billion in federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments, with partners at the state, local, tribal and private levels. Unfortunately, the plan went nowhere in 2018 despite early optimism among construction materials stakeholders.

Then, the midterm elections came and went, shifting control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats. One might expect this outcome to generally impede the Trump administration’s ability to pass significant legislation in 2019. However, a closer evaluation is warranted that could offer hope for bold leadership yet.

Reason for optimism

Media: Pit and Quarry


According to Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), there is at least one significant legislative opportunity both parties could pursue this year, and that opportunity happens to be infrastructure.

“I actually think what just happened in Washington is the best of all possible scenarios for our industry as it relates to infrastructure investment,” says Johnson, referring to the outcome of the midterm elections. “Republicans are great for us on regulatory oversight and rollback. We’ve had a Republican-controlled Congress for the last eight to 10 years, and we’ve had zero progress on getting a significant infrastructure [bill] past the FAST Act.”

Speaking at the 2019 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference in Coral Gables, Florida, Johnson says the likelihood of passing an infrastructure bill is greater because of the current setup of the executive and legislative branches.

“I think our industry is in a better place on infrastructure with a Congress in Democrat hands in at least one chamber and a Republican in the White House,” he says. “We still have to worry about regulatory overreach, but the Democrats are going to pursue a much more progressive agenda on infrastructure investment.”

According to Johnson, NSSGA met early this year with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the new chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, who shared his intentions on infrastructure.

“He assured us there will be an infrastructure bill put through his committee this spring, and he intends to pass it through the House sometime before June,” Johnson says. “Hopefully sooner rather than later. I’d like to see him get it done before Memorial Day.

“It’s going to be a big bill,” Johnson adds. “It will be $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has also expressed interest in pursuing infrastructure legislation.

“In her campaign to win the vote to be elected speaker, [she] promised infrastructure legislation to a number of what is the largest freshmen class the Democrats have ever had,” Johnson says. “A number of those freshmen campaigned on infrastructure. So there’s a lot of interest in moving an infrastructure bill through Congress – at least through the House.”

Passing a bill through the Senate is the greater challenge, Johnson says.

“I do see some glimmers of hope there,” he says. “There are 20 Republican senators up for re-election in 2020, and a number of those are in states where Trump did not win – or that reversed their support for Republicans in 2018. They know they have to show they can get something done.”

Getting it done

At the 2019 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, NSSGA's Michael Johnson, right, joined Pit & Quarry's Kevin Yanik for a discussion on legislative and regulatory affairs. Photo by PamElla Lee

At the 2019 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, NSSGA’s Michael Johnson, right, joined Pit & Quarry’s Kevin Yanik for a discussion on legislative and regulatory affairs. Photo by PamElla Lee

While some saw the shutdown as a sign of more gridlock to come, others have identified opportunities where Republicans and Democrats can work together.

Johnson says Republican Senators who leaned toward ending the shutdown could be supporters of an infrastructure bill – though the bill would have to come sooner than later.

“It’s a short window,” Johnson says. “I think it’s got to be done by the summer, and certainly by the August recess, because the presidential campaign will begin in earnest in August.”

For additional perspective from Johnson on developments in Washington, look for a special Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference supplement in the April 2019 edition of Pit & Quarry.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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