Sen. James M. Inhofe Issues Ultimatum.
(Courtesy office of Sen. Inhofe)

With federal transportation programs facing a July 31 funding cut-off, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) offered House and Senate negotiators one last-ditch effort to reach a compromise on July 20. At a meeting of the transportation conference committee, Inhofe, the chairman, floated a proposal that sets the funding level at $301 billion. The figure is below the $318-billion total in the Senate-passed bill and the House version's $284 billion. “This is the only compromise that is sellable,” he asserted.

Inhofe plans to offer his compromise as a formal motion when the conference panel next meets on July 22, one day before Congress’ scheduled five-week summer recess. There is “not room to change any more,” Inhofe warned the lawmakers.

Senators and Representatives from both political parties did not appear to embrace the chairman’s proposal, making it likely to fail at the next negotiating session. “I don’t know if we can be ready to evaluate the proposal by Thursday,” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also expressed reservations. “There are five pilots in the wheelhouse and we’re headed for the sandbar,” he said.

If no agreement on a funding level is reached, as many expect, Congress will have to extend for a fifth time the current funding program. Extensions aren’t good, warned Inhofe.

But one House aide said the only question now is whether they will approve a two-month extension and resume negotiations in September or extend until after the November elections.