Hops & Highways Season 2 Episode 3: Updates on the Infrastructure Bill from Washington

House Democrats are scrambling to break the weeks-long stalemate on the bipartisan infrastructure package. President Biden just traveled to Capitol Hill to speak with lawmakers to move his agenda forward.

Jess & Dormie have the latest from Washington as lawmakers are scrambling to fulfill Biden's economic agenda: 

J: Well we thought we’d be able to share some really great news with you all today about the passing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that’s been rattling around in Washington since early this year but unfortunately, our lawmakers haven’t been able to get their act together. Yesterday, House Democrats were unable to reach an agreement between the party’s progressive and moderate wings that would allow the chamber to approve the infrastructure investment package which includes surface transportation reauthorization. This effectively puts the authority to spend federal highway and public transportation funds in a temporary lapse. Congress is expected to approve later today either a short-term extension or the comprehensive infrastructure measure.

D: President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders are being forced to secure nearly unanimous support from their party’s House members to offset efforts by Republicans to defeat the infrastructure bill that would increase all state’s federal highway funds by more than 30 percent. The same measure earned support from 19 of the Senate’s 50 Republican members.

J: The issue is, Democrats are using their power to hold the infrastructure package hostage unless Biden’s broader $3.5 trillion spending package on social infrastructure is also passed. Progressive members are withholding their support until a consensus is reached within the party on the parameters for the separate social infrastructure/climate change measure. Republicans also feel leery of voting for the infrastructure bill. They think that allowing it to pass will give Democrats their way with this larger package. It’s important to note that moderates want an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill and have expressed their disappointment with the hold up.

D: Right now as we talk to you House Democrats are scrambling to break the weeks-long stalemate on the bipartisan infrastructure package. President Biden just traveled to Capitol Hill to speak with lawmakers to move his agenda forward.

J: Biden’s presence on Capitol Hill is a significant development and shows the president getting involved in the negotiations beyond private phone calls and meetings at the White House. Biden, a former senator from Delaware and self-proclaimed dealmaker, has only traveled to Capitol Hill once before during his short tenure as president. 

D: As Jess mentioned above, surface transportation funding has effectively expired. There are talks that House leaders may take up a 30-day extension of surface transportation programs that expired with the end of the fiscal year yesterday. AASHTO has expressed deep disappointment that our government allowed this funding to expire stating: Yesterday’s inaction on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act isn’t just disappointing—it lapses our highway, transit and highway safety programs and halts work on vital transportation infrastructure around the country, which is detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities

J: Republicans have also hammered Democrats for allowing the highway funding to lapse but have not said if they will support a short-term patch to relieve the furloughs. Passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill would renew those highway and transit construction programs, but the House still has yet to vote on that measure amid Democratic infighting over the larger, social benefits spending package. 

D: The House is scheduled to leave town Friday for a long two-week recess, raising questions about whether Democratic leaders will alter the calendar and keep lawmakers in town to vote on Biden’s agenda if a deal is reached in the coming days. 

J: We just want this done already so the industry can experience the long-term, sustainable funding we need to move projects forward and we will drink to that!

:::WE DRINK:::

J: In some other news, we want to keep you updated on Biden’s vaccine mandate. We’re continuing to wait for more information from OSHA on its emergency temporary standard that will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or mandate that any workers who remain unvaccinated produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis. There is little clarity as to exactly when the agency will formally issue this ETS testing mandate and when it will take effect. 

D: Last week, the Safer Federal Workplace Task Force issued guidance to help implement the president's executive order calling for a broad vaccination mandate for direct federal contractors which represent prime and subcontractors that work on contracts directly for federal agencies, and not contractors working on state department of transportation federal-aid highway contracts or federal grant contracts. The guidance puts forth many questions without clear answers, including how the mandate will be enforced and employer liabilities stemming from the mandate

J: As it stands, the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council is expected to release an interim contracts clause that agencies could include in new solicitations and contracts (including new task orders on IDIQ contracts) as early as October 15. The construction industry has proven throughout the pandemic that it can work in a safe and essential manner. OSHA has previously deemed many construction activities as low exposure risks so a vaccine mandate for our industry may be unnecessary and let’s drink to that!

:::WE DRINK:::

D:  In some industry-specific news, Volvo Construction Equipment unveiled its CX01 single-drum asphalt compactor concept at the Utility Expo in Louisville, KY this week. The CX01 concept uses one vibratory asphalt compactor drum that’s actually two independent halves (called a split-drum) kept upright by a self-balancing control system. Capable of being operated either by remote-control or entirely autonomously, the machine is also fitted with both a diesel engine and an energy storage system, making it a flexible electric hybrid solution. It can be operated in diesel-only, hybrid or fully electric modes. This concept machine is the latest in the Concept Lab family of prototype machines that push the boundaries of conventional construction equipment.

J: Volvo says that by redesigning the compactors themselves, the operator is removed from the unit which can reduce exposure to vibration, noise, dust and other associated environmental conditions. Volvo says that a fleet of these units deployed on larger jobs could work together and communicate not only between each CX unit but also to other pieces of equipment on the site. The machines could survey the jobsite, report on the conditions of the mat — things like density, temperature and passes — and determine when and where to compact. It’s an interesting concept for sure but we’d have to see it on the jobsite to know if it would work. Until then, roller operators - we’re going to drink to you! Cheers!

:::WE DRINK:::

D: That’s all the news we have for you this week, it’s going to be a wild few days as we await more news from Washington. Stay tuned to Asphalt Contractor’s Facebook page for the latest news. 

J: We really hope lawmakers get their act together. This is a once in a generation opportunity to invest meaningfully in our roads, highways and bridges. American support this legislation and our leaders in Washington need to listen to what we want. We’ll keep you updated and until then, stay safe out there!

:::WE DRINK:::