In late March, Congress narrowly averted a shutdown of highway and transit programs by passing the latest stopgap just two days before the previous one was to lapse.
Whitted worries that if Capitol Hill conferees cannot strike a deal by June 30 and instead end up adopting yet another extension, Congress won’t revisit the issue until a post-election lame-duck session late in the year. "And in a lame duck," she says, "I'm afraid that it would get lost."
Basso says, "Our hope is that conferees will come together and get this worked out quickly, because we'd like to have the stability. We're now charging into the height of the construction season. We'd certainly like to have stability and be able to see beyond September 30."
Hansen says, "Maybe they can get it done by June 30. Wouldn't that just be great?" He adds, "The industry is looking for a shot in the arm, and Congress has it in their hands to help stimulate the construction market by simply passing this reauthorization bill and getting us through [fiscal] 2013. Everyone's watching."
The House-passed three-month bill also includes a controverial provision far afield from highways or transit. It is aimed at gaining quick federal approval for the proposed $7-billion Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In January, President Obama denied a permit application for the project filed by energy company TransCanada. Ever since, Republicans have been pushing hard to get the pipeline approved.
The plan the Obama administration rejected did not reflect a planned route change in the project's Nebraska section, a change meant to avoid the state’s environmentally sensitive sand-hills region.
The White House on April 17 issued a veto warning for the three-month House transportation bill, specifically pointing to the Keystone provision. The administration contends that language "circumvents a long-standing and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline before a new route has been submitted and assessed."
The Senate blocked earlier legislation to speed approval of the pipeline, and environmental groups strongly oppose the project. But Hansen notes, "The labor unions are for it. It's a jobs issue. We certainly support it."
If conferees present Obama with a highway-transit reauthorization bill that is fully financed through fiscal 2013 but includes a Keystone provision, Hansen thinks Obama will sign it. "He's going to veto that before an election?" Hansen says. "I would find that to be remarkable."