Buttigieg ‘Not Waiting’ to Beat Clock on Renewing Highway Bill

  • DOT head touts relief plan, looks ahead to infrastructure
  • Focus will also shift to enabling safe summer travel

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg insisted that the Biden administration will move swiftly to reauthorize the highway bill, which is set to expire in a little over six months.

“We’ve got a clock on everything we’re doing,” Buttigieg said on Monday. “We’re not waiting until September in order to act. Conversations are taking place right now.”

Following passage of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus relief package, Buttigieg is now dividing his time between carrying out the relief law and moving on to reauthorization of surface transportation programs. Buttigieg has attended two Oval Office conversations with President Joe Biden and bipartisan groups of lawmakers to talk about next steps on infrastructure, calling the conversations around the topic “very much live.”

“You’re going to see us working to execute on the American Rescue Plan, working to communicate about the American Rescue Plan, and yes, now the passage is through, looking forward to all of the things that we know we have to do this year,” he said.

Democrats to Struggle Going ‘Solo’ on Main Parts of Highway Bill

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg greets a United Parcel Service Inc. employee during a tour of a UPS facility that is delivering vaccines on March 15, 2021 in Landover, Md.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday that Congress must now build on the relief plan, and called on the committee chairs to work with Republicans “to craft a big, bold and transformational infrastructure package.”

Covid Relief

Buttigieg, who has spent much of the past month as a messenger for the Biden administration urging the passage of the relief bill, has continued to publicize the recovery plan. Buttigieg toured a United Parcel Service Inc. facility in Landover, Maryland on Monday with Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and Meera Joshi, the acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The relief package will make a “major difference in getting Covid-19 behind us,” because it allocates resources to make sure vaccine distribution moves “as quickly as possible,” Cardin said.

Biden signed the Covid-19 relief package (Public Law 117-2) last week. The communication doesn’t stop now that the plan is enacted, Buttigieg said.

“Just because Congress made the resources available, doesn’t mean everything is going to go the way it needs. It is down to everybody from the drivers here at UPS to employees in the Department of Transportation, throughout the public and private sector, to put those resources to work,” Buttigieg said.

Senate-Passed Covid Aid Reconciliation Bill: BGOV Summary

About 10 UPS drivers talked with Buttigieg at the distribution facility. Jesus Rodriguez, who has worked with UPS for 30 years and spoke with Buttigieg at the event, said in an interview that at first it was “overwhelming” delivering hundreds of vaccine packages per day but now they have it more under control. Rodriquez said he has yet to be vaccinated.

Future Travel

Biden said in his first prime-time address last week that he is aiming to have July 4 mark a day of “independence from this virus,” where small gatherings can occur. Buttigieg said that he wants “a safe return to travel” to be a part of that as well.

As more vaccines get delivered, Buttigieg said the process of easing travel restrictions when that time comes may be more complicated than the process of applying them, but he is “looking forward to summer travel.”

When asked about vaccine passports, Buttigieg said there are discussions happening around the country and the world on how to ensure safe travel, whether it’s testing or vaccination identification, which the Department of Health and Human Services has been reviewing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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