Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has urged top U.S. Dept. of Transportation officials to weigh in to help end what she termed a "standoff" with the House over the length of a surface transportation bill.

Barbara Boxer
Photo: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

With a current seven-week stopgap highway and transit authorization set to expire Dec. 18, Boxer and leaders of other key Senate committees have lined up behind a further six-month extension. But Boxer said House leaders support much shorter extensions.

At a Nov. 18 briefing of her committee on highway funding issues, at which lawmakers heard from senior DOT officials, Boxer said, "There clearly has been a standoff between the House and Senate on this."

She called a six-month bill "the best solution" and asked the DOT witnesses, Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz, for assistance in getting a six-month extension through Congress. "We need your help now on this standoff," she said.

But first Boxer and other colleagues who back the six-month bill must get it through the full Senate. She said some Republican senators continue to block quick approval of that measure, and added that a cloture vote is needed to counter a potential filibuster.

Boxer, along with the environment panel's top Republican, James Inhofe (Okla.), and leaders of the banking, commerce and finance committees, sent a letter Nov. 17 to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging them to begin the cloture-vote process.

Porcari told Boxer's committee that the Obama administration continues to support an 18-month highway-transit extension, but under questioning from Boxer, Porcari said, "A six-month extension is...better than a 30-day [extension]."

Kienitz said that under the two short stopgap transportation measures since Sept. 30, state DOTs will see new highway funding authority cut by about 30% compared with fiscal 2009 levels. He noted that some states won't feel that cut for a while, because they can carry over unused highway authority from earlier years.

Kienitz also provided more clarity about the health of the Highway Trust Fund. He said that DOT's "current charts" show the trust fund should be solvent through August 2010 and its current balance is "very healthy," standing at about $5 billion. That's thanks in large part to a $7-billion infusion from the general Treasury approved by Congress in July.