Congress & Compromise



As chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) plays a major role in guiding highway funding, but the sixth-generation farmer has a vision for his committee that goes beyond roads and bridges.

Graves and his T&I Committee counterpart Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) have both said they aim to differentiate their committee from others on Capitol Hill by being focused on work, not headlines. Graves said he wants to restore the committee’s reputation for compromise after years of fading cooperation between parties.

“When I took over the committee, I decided to take it back to its former bipartisan tradition,” Graves told the crowd gathered for NAPA’s 2023 Midyear Meeting in Kansas City. “Compromise has become a dirty word with some people in Congress, but the truth of the matter is that’s an old-school way of looking at things. That’s what makes the best legislation: When everybody doesn’t get what they want.”

NAPA Vice President for Government Affairs Nile Elam joined the congressman on stage where the two discussed the political climate in Washington, the Highway Trust Fund, and Buy America.

Graves said while Congress makes the laws, bureaucrats and those in positions with regulatory authority can sometimes nullify or even change provisions that may not follow a law’s intent. He also noted that funding that comes from general revenue, like that found in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA), can be difficult to maintain.

“If we are completely dependent on general revenue, we’ll always be at the mercy of the appropriators,” he said. “With the trust funds it makes sure those dollars are spent in those areas. We’ve got to figure out how to make sure the trust fund stays viable.”

napa midyear meeting attendees

Graves said the federal government needs to figure out how to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, even as electric cars reduce the number of drivers paying into the user fees that maintain it.

“If you want to use the road, you have to pay to use the road,” he said. “We’re seeing the trust fund deplete. Whatever the case may be, we still have to cover those dollars.”

Graves said having user fees attached to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) may be an alternative to the gas tax, which has remained stagnant since 1993. Graves noted that the solution will need to come from the Ways and Means Committee, which is the taxing committee.

Graves said the T&I Committee, the largest in the House, benefits from having small business owners among its members.

“We’ve ended up with some very good folks on the committee; both sides of the aisle,” he said. “They understand the process and how it works and how business works.”

rep. sam graves

Elam asked how those in the room can best advocate for their industry moving forward. Graves said the key is to create relationships with your representatives in Congress.

“Stay active in your association because associations are very important, and even though you have a D.C. presence, it’s when members themselves engage, because you all can vote for these individuals,” he said. “I don’t know about most offices, but in my office, if it’s someone who is a constituent, they get time with me all the time. I would encourage you to get to know your member of congress, if you don’t already. On a first name basis. And participate in the association whether that’s the fly-ins in D.C., which I know takes time away from your schedule. But it’s very important. Like I say, when those members come in to visit, you always try to meet with them. And be active with your PAC because that’s what gives you influence and helps you work through some of these issues and processes and gets your priorities out there.

“You can tell the associations that have the most impact and in construction you all are one of the most powerful associations in D.C., so keep it that way.”

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