We were pleased to sit down with Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-3), the Ranking Member on the Highways Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Rep. Davis shared his thoughts on the prospects of an infrastructure bill this Congress and discussed the challenges and opportunities for bipartisan compromise in the weeks ahead.  Davis also discussed his participation in the biennial "Longest Yard" congressional football game for charity played by Members of Congress and the Capitol Police.  The Members won the game, and both teams raised $300,000 for local police charities in the process.

Transcript:

Host: Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast brought to you by the American Council of engineering companies. I am very pleased today to be coming from you in really the, I guess the hideaway office of Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois. I'm a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, but more impo rtantly, the winner or, or the, at least the trophy holder of the 2019 a congressional longest yard football championship - which is a great achievement, which is a biennial football game being put on for charity by between the Capitol police and members of Congress. Tell us a little bit about the charity cause I don't think a lot of people realize that this happens outside of Washington, that this, this is a, this is a biannual event.

Rep. Davis: Well for other reasons the baseball game has gotten a lot more attention over the last few years after the tragic shooting that we all went through in June of 2017. But we also have a congressional football game for charity where instead of like in baseball where Republicans and Democrats play against each other, we play on the same team against the guards. It's kinda based on, as you said, the longest yard movie. Uwe're supposed to be the ones, the convicts, but we bring some pros into some former NFL pros that help us coach and, and play with us. Ubut we really appreciate what the guards do on a regular basis. But there's a Capitol police Memorial fund that was started after the death of two officers in the late nineties here in Washington, D C where they were killed by a mentally ill gunman who came into the Capitol before. We had a lot of the security protocols that we now see in place that Capitol Police Memorial Fund gets money from this football game of what we raise.

Rep. Davis: Also a couple of other charities that are dedicated to helping veterans who come home and maybe be suffering through post traumatic stress syndrome. These are the, the, the charities that are funded by the record, $300,000 plus that we raised last night.

Rep. Davis: Yeah, that's fantastic.

Rep. Davis: And I think it's a, it's a good lesson for everyone listening outside the beltway that at the end of the day members of Congress come together for a good cause. No, we really do. And, and in the midst of an impeachment inquiry beginning, we, Republicans and Democrats played together on a field last night for charity. And I just hope your listeners and the American people realize that there's a lot more of that than what you see and hear in the news on the 24 hour news cycle. That's a good thing. And I want to thank the Capitol police for what they do everyday.

Rep. Davis: They protect millions of people a year that come through this Capitol complex. I also saw the Capitol police officers firsthand when in the midst of a, a shooting in the midst of a tragedy those officers ran toward the gunfire while we were all running away. That's courage. But that courage that courage exists to every day. And we know they're doing what they're trained to do. But also last night it was a night that although I respect everything they do, I'm damn glad we beat, them.

Host: It's always good to bring the, bring the trophy home.

Rep. Davis: Oh yeah. No, I'm not carrying it by any of those Capitol police at the guard stations.

Host: Unless you have to get down on the floor of the house and do the special order to...

Rep. Davis: That'll be tomorrow, tomorrow.

Host: Um well like you said, you know, there's a lot going on in Washington right now.

Host: A lot of it is political, but there's one issue which of course I think is, is largely bipartisan. Um historically has been, and that of course - that is infrastructure. You serve as the ranking member on the highway subcommittee of the transportation infrastructure...

Rep. Davis: The largest subcommittee in Congress, 59 members, 59 members.

Host: And of course, right now everybody is looking to see what's gonna happen with infrastructure next. The Senate has moved on their version of service bill before they broke for August recess. And now that they're back, you know, that process continues. What's your perspective and view in the house? What, where do you see this process going and what would you like to see come out of the session?

Rep. Davis: Sure. I'm glad the Senate took the first crack at it because I think it sends a message to the democratic leadership who I believe are holding up Chairman DeFazio from being able to offer up a solution on the house side.

Rep. Davis: You know, Peter DeFazio's, a good friend of mine Eleanor Holmes, Norton, the treasurer of the subcommittee that I'm the lead Republican on. And then our ranking member, Sam graves. If we were just given a chance to sit down and across the table from each other, we could have a bill done in a matter of days, if not hours. We can do that. The Senate did that. They did their work. We had Senator Carper over to speak to our transportation stakeholders meeting that Earl Blumenauer and I run on a regular basis. He was there today talking about their successes. But again, it all comes down to two things. Now. Number one, it's how do we pay for it? Because that Senate bill, it addresses nothing in the pay force. I mean, we can put good policies together on the, on the the authorizing side just like they did, but the appropriating side and the tax writing side that's going to be the most, the biggest part of our discussion.

Rep. Davis: That's one issue that's holding up progress. The second one is impeachment. Look. I've been a staffer during the Clinton impeachment. I've never been here during an impeachment. And from what I remember, the 90s, nothing gets done during impeachment.

Host: Everything just grinds to a halt.

Rep. Davis: Absolutely. And that's unfortunate because we ought to be able to come together on infrastructure. That's why I asked to be the ranking member on the highways and transit subcommittee. I, I know we've got a highway bill coming. We got to get together and come up with solutions.

Host: So even though, like you mentioned, things got even more partisan or more political last night with, with the announcement of this inquiry, there still can be work done by the committees by staff and the members. Um as you mentioned, T&I's an authorizing committee, you can only do so much when it comes to the question of funding.

Host: Yeah. How is we'll have a say in that funding source. Yeah. But what do you think is, is how is Ways and Means approaching this on, on the house side? What do you think.

Rep. Davis: They're not.

Host: They're not at all right now.

Rep. Davis: And that is a part of the problem.

Host: Do you think it's at least on their agenda or you think there's some reason why it's, it's being held up or frankly I can give you my perspective and my opinion on why it's being held up.

Rep. Davis: I think Nancy Pelosi in the Democratic leadership don't want to talk about infrastructure. They don't want to pass the USMCA right now because it gives president Trump a win against President Trump. Something to go talk about and being able to work together and get things done that matter to American families. And that's just as an ma matter to a group of engineers.

Rep. Davis: It just doesn't matter to a group of road builders. It just doesn't matter to a group of transit officials or members of Congress. It matters to every single American out there to have a better transportation network to get to and from work. But what matters in middle America sometimes doesn't matter to leaders in politics out here. And that's what sad. That's what I think is holding this up. It's just a sheer will of the Democrats not to give the president in a win. And that's unfortunate.

Host: Now I think going back home and, and for the perspective of your constituents back home, a lot of us talk about, and we hear all the time in Washington, the negative side of, of infrastructure, the roads are crumbling and the bridges are falling down. The flip side of that is what we could actually achieve if we actually invest in America's infrastructure. What kind of benefits would your constituents get from a well funded and longterm infrastructure bill?

Rep. Davis: Well, they're, they're going to see updates to their local transportation systems that they in many of their local officials have been calling for for years, if not decades. It's, it's being able to implement those longterm visions that have been part of a planning process that may be out dates even as long as we've been alive in many cases. You look at, you look at a us 67, for example, in the Southern part of my district, that long term project could be completed with an infrastructure bill. We could get the rest of US 67 funded and then the new and then the new Delhi bypass funded around Jerseyville that could really then complete that four lane corridor from you know, basically from the quad cities all the way down to st Louis.

Rep. Davis: That was a longterm goal that was put in place long before I ever got involved in politics and policy. But you don't have to look too far to see the benefits of what could happen. And we also can't forget how long of a, an outlook we have to have when it comes to infrastructure. Dave Bender and I have known each other for a very, very long time. And, and when I first started working right out of college, I was involved in an accident on route 29 that killed a young lady on December 23rd and I was a third car in the accident. I had went around, and got sprayed with debris, but that death of melody travelers started a group called project 29 in Taylorville, my hometown. And in 1992 and moving into 1993, when that group was started, if you would have asked us if we were okay with that project, finally getting done in 2016, we would have said, keep your money.

Rep. Davis: But we didn't. We got the first ever federal investment that was invested in 1998 that helped put that project on to governor Edgar's five-year plan. Then we had Illinois first, they invested more dollars to get four lanes on both ends of that 18 miles. It still need to be four lanes put in place. And then as we moved federal dollars into that project and as we moved more state dollars into that project, it finally got done in 2016. 1993 to 2016 but nobody in my hometown that drives that road says we regret investing in that project, but we got to be patient and we've got to continue to invest because eventually you get it done. And that's what an infrastructure bill can do.

Host: That's a really good point. And I think that the length of time from inception to project delivery is also something that is always on our minds.

Rep. Davis: Clearly the engineering portion, that's what keeps it. That's what it takes too long.

Rep. Davis: Do you see any, I'm moving on and making sure that we engineers don't have sense of humor. You didn't laugh at all. Terrible, terrible. A change order.

Host:  But it's, it's, I guess the idea of cutting that project delivery timeline is something which the Senate address with one federal decision in, in, in their bill, in, in streamline of the environmental regulatory review process. How important will that be mirroring that or going further in the House?

Rep. Davis: You know, it's a step more than what we've already done. I mean, look, we have had so many successes in the six and a half years I'd been here when it comes to water infrastructure, when it comes to when it comes to water infrastructure, rail infrastructure, road infrastructure, we've done everything we can to really lessen the regulatory environment and speed up the permitting process.

Rep. Davis: Think about it with the Corps of engineers, when we first passed our first WRDA bill that we did when I got here to Congress in 2014, the average time it took from what I consider the paperwork process to the building process was 15 years average time. And I can only blame you engineer's for a portion of that. You know, so we, by law then what we did is we made sure that the Corps of Engineers knew that they had three years, three years. That's it. Otherwise, otherwise, you know, you're penalized. You got to three years by law to finish the project, that portion of the project. Then we get to the infrastructure investment itself much more quickly. Those are the types of things we've been able to do. So continuing down that process with what the Senate did I think is a great step. And we, we have to continue to identify where we lessen the regulatory burden and get to the point of laying concrete asphalt.

Host:  I just have two more questions cause I wanna I want to make sure that we have votes coming up and I know you want to make sure that you hit them. The one question I have again on WRDA really is, is we're expecting that of course in 2020 and.

Rep. Davis: That will be my third WRDA bill when, I take full credit for finally passing where to bills because before I got here in 2013, nothing happened. It was Oh seven. So you're welcome.

Host: No problem. I guess question on process, and this might be speculative, but do you think that chairman DeFazio's going to keep the same process that chairman Schuster put in with the Chiefs Reports or you know, or that like that change?

Rep. Davis: Well, certainly I'd like to go a step further. Look, I'd like to be able to have members of Congress try to address issues in their own district like we used to.

Rep. Davis:  I think it's a tragedy that when we, that we can't ask for any language. When it comes to war to authorization authorization, we are only authorizing dollars to be spent. No dollars are attached to a WRDA request. But somehow before I got here, those requests were labeled earmarks when they have $0 dollars attached. And what that has led to is been zero investment on the locks and dams in the Illinois and Mississippi waterways because I couldn't ask for it during the Obama administration and the Obama administration wouldn't ask to spend any money on it. So we had no recourse. It's all executive branch driven. Thankfully the Trump administration began to invest in the Illinois, Mississippi waterways. They're spending millions to upgrade LaGrange now. Now the problem I have is our producers are worried they won't get done in time. I'm like, that's a good problem to have.

Rep. Davis: Yeah, wait, we actually worried about spending money instead of getting money.

Host: So the final question I have for you is, did we win the game? Yes, we did. We're champions. So let a little bit later we're going to be meeting with some of our executives, some of our senior executives, Institute members. Yes.

Rep. Davis: Couple of them got to ride up on the elevator with me holding it.

Rep. Davis: They already gave you the elevator pitch.

Rep. Davis: They know I'm a champion.

Host: Did you let them hold the trophy? That's the big question.

Rep. Davis: I let them touch it.

Rep. Davis: All right. There you go. Hey, did given the fact that we talk a lot about the value of engineering and kind of the broader context of its, you know, value to society what's going to be your message to them when you, when you talk to them.

Rep. Davis: That we won the football game and clearly that's all I'm going to talk about.

Rep. Davis: You know, my messages, engineers by nature, by job, our longterm planners understand that we wouldn't, as policymakers, we wouldn't expect an engineer to give us a product that was not a longterm solution for the project they're working on or the building they're building. Don't expect us as policy makers to settle for short term funding solutions that don't address the volatility and the lack of funding and the highway trust fund and the long term outlook for what are, what are our you know, systems of mobility are going to look like in the next 10 years, which is basically a fancy way of saying don't just tell us to raise the gas tax.

Host: Got it. Well, Congressman, I really appreciate you being on the show. This is, you are the first member of Congress to appear on our podcast and it's a great way to kick it off.

Rep. Davis:  Congressman Rodney Davis, he's a leader on and off the football field and good luck today.

Rep. Davis: Can I give a special shout out to...

Rep. Davis: Please do.

Rep. Davis: Bender -

Host: David our director of political affairs here is sitting out on the, on the sideline here.

Rep. Davis: Well, David has been a longtime friend. You guys couldn't ask for a better advocate out here in Washington. Now. And I also want to give a shout out to his replacement. Kevin Hardell. Kevin and I have worked together for years. He's going to do a great job fill in the shoes that, that Dave left as big shoes to fill. But you know what? You guys couldn't have two better people representing you at the state and the federal level. And I appreciate being able to work with both of them and I know, I know what they're capable of. And you guys have got a long term bright future with association.

Host: Dave's been great. I've been working with them since they came on and it's just been a fantastic experience. So I appreciate your time and thank you very much.

Rep. Davis: Thank you. And remind Kevin, I'm a champion. I will definitely

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