House Republicans introduced the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act this afternoon, a $260 billion proposal crafted to repair the country's infrastructure, reauthorize transportation programs for five years and remove barriers to domestic energy production.
Republicans say it will create long-term, private-sector job growth by cutting red tape and lowering government barriers to American energy production. Democrats say it's a gift to the oil industry and reject the inclusion of provisions allowing new off-shore drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act is the largest transportation reform bill since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956," Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said. "This bill will put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and developing new sources of low cost energy. This legislation may be the most important jobs measure to pass Congress this year."
It authorizes $260 billion over five years to fund the federal highway system, and it would delegate more power to the states to set priorities for the money. "Regulatory overreach and redundant spending programs are crippling our economy, stifling job creation, and wasting our limited federal resources," Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said.
While there is some bipartisan support for new infrastructure spending, the parties in Congress are at odds on how to pay for the bill.
"Speaker Boehner talked about additional production and the dollars that will generate," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said skeptically a short time before the bill was unveiled. "We haven't seen the specifics, but [everyone] agrees that that will be insufficient to get there."
Democrats also contend that instead of pursuing a bipartisan approach to investing in the country's transportation and infrastructure, House Republicans are proposing extreme legislation that is just another gift to the oil industry.
"There are significant gaps between what is projected to be needed, which is very large, and the solutions that are proposed," Hoyer, D-Md., said. "We ought to stop playing pretend. We have very substantial infrastructure needs. Addressing those infrastructure needs will both make us more competitive and create jobs, and we ought to address those, again, in a fashion that has sufficient resources to make sure that we're competitive and creating the jobs that we need and the infrastructure we need to be competitive."
Republicans, on the other hand, boast that while the last highway bill contained more than 6,300 earmarks, H.R. 7 contains no earmarks. Mica's committee is scheduled to begin marking up the transportation reauthorization portion of the bill on Thursday.