Update from Washington, D.C.
President Trump Delivers State of the Union Address, House Committee to Examine Condition of Nation’s Infrastructure
February 7, 2019
On February 5, President Trump delivered his second official State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. During the 82-minute speech, Trump called for unity and bipartisanship, encouraging both parties to work together on issues such as curing childhood cancer, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure. In doing so, however, he provided little specific direction to lawmakers on how to accomplish these goals.
In addition, and despite the call for congressional collaboration, the president renewed his demands for a wall along the southern border. While he stopped short of declaring a national emergency, the president indicated that he would move unilaterally to build the barrier if Congress fails to act.
Providing the Democratic response to the president’s address was former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the state’s gubernatorial race in November. Abrams, who made history as the first black woman to provide the Democratic rebuttal, blamed Trump for the recent partial government shutdown. She also sharply criticized the administration’s policies on issues such as border security, gun control, and climate change. Following an election against Republican Brian Kemp, which was rife with accusations of voter suppression, Abrams concluded her remarks by highlighting the need to strengthen the nation’s voting rights.
In other developments, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) is scheduled to hold a hearing on February 7 entitled “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.” The panel’s hearing, which will be its first of the 116th Congress, will examine the current state of the nation’s highways, bridges, transit systems, ports, and airports, as well as the increasing costs of federal inaction.
The T&I Committee is set to hear testimony from ten witnesses, including Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as well as representatives from Amtrak, the Aerospace Industries Association, Spokane International Airport, Charlotte Water, UPS Freight, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. More information about the hearing, including testimony, additional background information, as well as a live webcast can be found here.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate on February 5 overwhelmingly voted in favor of moving forward with consideration of a bipartisan omnibus public lands package (S 47). The legislation, which is the product of negotiations between House and Senate committee leaders, combines more than 100 bills from the previous Congress.
Among other things, the 662-page measure would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The fund, which expired on September 30, supports state and federal land acquisition, state recreation planning grants, and other outdoor recreational programs. It should be noted that LWCF is largely funded by federal receipts from offshore oil and gas leases.
In addition to renewing LWCF, S 47 would require the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to facilitate access to the federal lands they manage for recreational hunting and fishing. The bill would declare federal lands open for such activities, unless otherwise prohibited by law or the managing agency determines closing an area is necessary. If enacted into law, any determination to close off these lands would require a public review process and consultation with local authorities.
Finally, and of particular interest to California, the legislation includes the text of the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act as sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Paul Cook (R-CA) (S 67 and HR 376, respectively). Among other things, the legislation would update and expand protections for over 700,000 acres of the California desert. The upper chamber is expected to approve the package in the coming days.