Tuesday, February 28, 2012


March 31 is the end of the latest SAFETEA-LU extension. This means that if there is no federal transportation bill moving forward by the end of the month Congress will have to extend the previous bill for the ninth time in two years. Given that the House is delaying consideration of its long-term reauthorization bill, getting a bill in and out of conference committee will be tough. Below is Congressional Quarterly's report on the House bill.


By Richard E. Cohen and Nathan Hurst, CQ Staff

House Republican leaders are delaying action on a downsized multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill even after Speaker John A. Boehner was forced last week to abandon his signature longer term bill that also links infrastructure programs with energy production.

House leaders will not, as expected, bring to the floor a two-year extension of transportation programs that expire at the end of next month, leadership and committee aides said Tuesday. One factor is the continuing intraparty divisions about how to advance even the more limited version. The Senate continues to debate its two-year, $109 billion authorization (S 1813), although leaders have not yet reached a deal on amendments to the measure.

Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House Republican leaders set aside the Speaker’s five-year, $260 billion surface transportation bill (HR 7) after some Republican conservatives balked at the proposed spending on infrastructure programs.

Instead, the House plans to take up next week a leadership-crafted measure being touted as a job-creation measure. Leaders declined to specify how and whether the House would extend transportation programs, which expire March 31.

The move has created a split between House leaders and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica. The Florida Republican lashed out Tuesday against the GOP leadership’s plan to significantly shorten the length and scope of the five-year transportation that he unveiled Jan. 31.

Mica, who has for months pushed for a longer-term bill than the two-year version House leaders had been considering and that the Senate is debating (S 1813), dismissed leadership hopes of winning a better long-term bill after the fall elections. In a speech before the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Mica said leaders and stakeholders who make such assertions are “smoking the funny weed,” because federal spending will be even tighter at that time.

Mica’s comments came a day after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood panned the House GOP’s approach to transportation programs and advocated on behalf of the Senate’s version.

House Republicans have returned to the drawing board to find new ways to pay for their shorter-term highway bill, after abandoning plans to vote on the package before Presidents Day.

The delay is a recognition that GOP leaders have more work to do in persuading reluctant members of their caucus to support even the short-term package, which — like Boehner’s larger measure — link a reauthorization of surface transportation programs to an expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and off U.S. shores (HR 3408) and approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Both the longer-term and shorter-term bills have been the target of criticism from left and the right, with Democrats and moderate Republicans railing against its proposed reductions in mass transit spending, which depends on a 20 percent set-aside from the Highway Trust Fund for public transportation. Fiscal hawks also have voiced concern about the cost of the bill.

GOP aides said last week that by shortening the duration of the bill to between 18 and 30 months, keeping intact the Mass Transit Account and lowering its overall costs, they hoped to garner more Republican votes after House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier this month prospects for the legislation’s passage were looking bleak.

The internal dispute over the program has dampened Boehner’s efforts to intensify the GOP’s rhetorical focus on rising gasoline prices and the nation’s energy policy. The Speaker has cited the rising price of gasoline as more evidence that President Obama needs to “lay his cards on the table” for a national energy policy.

“The president says that he’s for an ‘all of the above’ energy plan,” Boehner said Tuesday. “I haven’t seen it.” Raising his voice, he added, “It’s damn time we have a national energy policy.”

GOP leaders contend that the Obama administration is to blame for rising gasoline prices because of excessive regulation and insufficient energy supply. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the president’s lack on leadership on the topic “frustrates the American people.”

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