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Capitol Watch: Will We See an Infrastructure Bill in 2017?

By Katie Cross, Associate, Blakey & Agnew

Upon taking office in January, the Administration indicated the top three agenda items they wanted to accomplish in the 2017 calendar year were health care reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure bill. Leaders in both the House and the Senate set a schedule of addressing health care first before moving on to tax reform and infrastructure, predicting the latter two would be brought to Chamber floors in fall of this year.

With a vote in the very early morning on July 28, the Senate seemingly ended the focus on health care. That morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan shifted the conversation to tax reform, calling it a top priority and noting that the Republican Party will easily be able to reach a consensus on what should be included. Republicans had already been working to ensure that consensus, announcing on July 27 they would remove the border adjustment provision from any tax reform bill. The provision was proposed by House GOP Members last year and would have taxed imports in an effort to generate revenues to compensate for other tax cuts. However, the plan was heavily criticized, with stakeholders arguing it would increase costs for U.S. consumers and many U.S. Senators coming out against it. Instead, Republicans from the House, the Senate, and the White House announced that their tax reform plan would result in "tax relief for American families" as well as lower tax rates for American businesses.

So where does this leave infrastructure?

The President has continued to advocate for his infrastructure plan, formally creating a Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure through a July 19 executive order. The Council has been tasked with studying the "scope and effectiveness of…Federal Government funding, support, and delivery of infrastructure projects in several sectors." It will work to prioritize U.S. infrastructure needs, accelerate the permitting process, and identify methods to increase public-private partnerships.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have also continued to express their support for an infrastructure bill. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), and others have all indicated they would like to see an infrastructure bill passed in

Photo Credit Andrew Harnik/AP Images

Congress. But the key question remains, when? While some Members advocated for tackling infrastructure before tax reform, many have instead argued that Congressed needs a tax bill first to ensure the proper pay-fors are included that can result in an increasing in spending on U.S. infrastructure. Indeed, the July 27 announcement of GOP plans for tax reform included a timeline of moving the legislation through committees this fall. Furthermore, despite multiple failed votes and the inclination by many to move on to the next agenda item, some members of the GOP are reluctant to walk away from the campaign promise of reforming health care and have urged continued work until a bill is passed.

The House left for their summer recess on July 31. Meanwhile, the Senate is currently scheduled to remain in session for an extra two weeks, leaving for their summer recess during the week of August 14. When Members return, they will have less than a month before the end of the 2017 fiscal year. The House will only have 48 days in session before the end of the 2017 calendar year while the Senate will have 61.

With Congress focusing on tax reform, the end of the fiscal year approaching, potential future debate on health care reform, plus the debt ceiling limit looming, it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to fit infrastructure in during the 2017 calendar year. Instead, many Members of Congress as well as trade publications are predicting that infrastructure will be pushed to 2018 – a potentially problematic timeline, as enacting major legislation can be extremely difficult during an election year.

Blakey & Agnew, LLC is a public affairs and
communications consulting firm based in
Washington, DC.