Defazio Finally Returns To Oregon After Being Addicted To Infrastructure

Defazio: Peter DeFazio claims he has a self-diagnosed addiction to transportation policy and is resigning from Congress.

He just ended his 36 years in Congress with a bang, serving as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at a very productive time for repairing the country’s deteriorating infrastructure. He had decided not to run for reelection in 2022.

Defazio Finally Returns To Oregon After Being Addicted To Infrastructure

Passing, approving, and funding transportation projects have always been difficult throughout his decades on the Hill. However, he still craves more. He recalls that a colleague cautioned him that “the Chair of T&I never sleeps” as he assumed head of the committee. Though he laughed it off, he realized the warning was accurate.

Funding for a bridge in Eugene, Oregon, was one of his first priorities in Congress. Officials from the federal, state and municipal governments were allegedly rounded together, forced to “sit in my conference room,” and threatened with expulsion until a design was approved.

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The Peter DeFazio Bridge was inaugurated after receiving funds. And it’s “absolutely amazing” and “lovely,” he adds.

He began working for former Oregon Democratic Rep. James H. Weaver as an assistant. Later, he rose to the position of chairman of the Lane County Board of Commissioners in Oregon. In 1987, he finally succeeded Weaver.

Defazio Finally Returns To Oregon After Being Addicted To Infrastructure
Defazio Finally Returns To Oregon After Being Addicted To Infrastructure

Unresolved Issues

He lists a long list of successes, including Democratic victories like passing the 2021 infrastructure law and securing the largest expansion of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the lower 48 states, and claims he is glad to be leaving because he was able to complete some long-needed projects before retiring to Oregon.

One was obtaining money for the Harbor Upkeep Trust Fund, a reserve used to pay for the building and maintenance of harbors and fed by a levy on goods discharged at ports. Although the earnings had tripled since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Congress had not used much of the fund over the previous 20 years, despite the money being subject to the yearly appropriations process.

Instead, according to a 2016 analysis from the Eno Center for Transportation, the money was kept in the fund “in the form of government IOUs while the tax funds themselves are spent on other things.”

DeFazio made it his goal to spend the money, even going so far as to vote against the House’s water resources renewal act of 2016, which he cosponsored, when Republicans removed his wording allowing for full use of the fund.

He responds, “Well, that one only took me four years.” Finally, it was approved as a component of the budget for 2020. However, it took four years of rushing back and forth between offices to negotiate with senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), both of whom resigned in 2022 along with DeFazio. In any case, it was a great treat when it eventually passed.

He continues, “That $10 billion in taxes that had been paid for maintaining our harbors or jetties had been sitting inert – it was badly needed.

However, he has left several tasks for Democrats in the 118th Congress to do, like developing energy transition technologies and enhancing Amtrak and transit services. There is no denying that once the Republicans gain the majority, such issues will get more difficult.

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Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who is expected to lead the committee, is someone DeFazio is familiar with and claims to have a rough understanding of what to expect from the incoming Congress. He alluded to Graves and other Republicans’ criticism of the Biden administration for enacting the 2021 infrastructure package, a subject Graves has committed to investigate.

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