Young said he was
unable to respond to Senate proposal

Congressional negotiations over a new, long-term transportation spending bill hit a snag July 7 when the House failed to put a counter-offer on the bill's overall funding on the table. At the conferees' previous meeting, held June 23, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed that the House accept the Senate's $318-billion funding level. But the lead House conferee, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said he was unable to respond to Inhofe's proposal but hoped to do so in the "near future."

That triggered criticism from a senior Democratic conferee, Harry Reid of Nevada, who predicted that the lawmakers would be unable to reach agreement on a multi-year bill. "It's very obvious that the House can't come up with a number." Reid said, "I'm terribly disappointed in what is taking place."

Reid also said Young is "a good man" but added, "On this issue, he's lost his pizzazz." Reid also said, "As far as I'm concerned, we are not going to have a bill less than $318-billion." If that figure isn't achieved, he said that "we're not going to have a bill."

Reid's criticism
drew sharp retort from Young

Those comments drew a sharp retort from Young, who told Reid, "Don't get me started. I have more problems than you can think of right now. I am trying to get a solution to the problem....This is a conference. Don't tell me what you're going to accept and not accept. If you think I've lost my pizzazz, you can kiss my you-know-what."

Despite that exchange, there were some other comments that offered promise House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said that the White House, which has opposed the Senate and House bills, will have to compromise. "They're going to have to give as well," Thomas said.

He also proposed setting up smaller working groups of conferees to try to find ways to move the discussions forward. After the conference meeting, Thomas said, "I may get some quiet offers" from other conferees to join those small groups. He told reporters, "I think I know where we can come to an agreement, but it requires agreement on all sides," including Democrats.

Inhofe, asked whether White House officials are willing to listen on highway bill issues, said, "I think they're listening and I have talked to people in the White House." He wouldn't amplify further on those discussions, but added, "We're communicating."
Inhofe said House and Senate staffers had agreed on 31 non-funding issues. He set the next meeting of the conferees for Tuesday morning, July 13.

The bill under discussion would be the successor to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. That statute expired last Sept. 30 and federal highway and transit programs have been operating under a series of extensions since then. The most recent extension runs out at the end of July.

(Photos courtesy of Office of Rep. Don Young and Office of Sen. Harry Reid)