Seeking to jump-start slow-moving House-Senate negotiations on a new surface transportation bill, Senate leaders have delivered a compromise proposal to their House counterparts. The plan—which Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and that committee's top Republican, James Inhofe (Okla.), personally took to the House on June 5—deals with highway, transit and safety portions of the bill. It doesn't include financing or non-transportation issues. That presumably means it is silent on a House proposal to spur approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Boxer, who chairs the joint conference committee, says the Senate offer reflects many of the House's views, but she didn't release the text or disclose details. A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee spokesman says, "We are taking a look at that proposal and will discuss it with our conferees."
Construction and transportation groups have stepped up their lobbying, pushing for a deal by June 30, when a short authorization expires. It is the ninth stopgap since 2009, when the last long-term highway-transit bill lapsed. Ten groups wrote conferees on June 5, urging them to act. They cited the "chilling" 8.2% May unemployment rate and construction's much worse 14.2% rate (see p. 6).
Some 400 Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) representatives fanned out on Capitol Hill on May 30-31, telling lawmakers and staffers to finish the long-overdue measure quickly. The industry executives came to Washington for a fly-in sponsored by the coalition, which includes 29 organizations.
Beth McGinn, a spokeswoman for one TCC member, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, says lawmakers and staffers "understood that there was a need to get something done, and everybody wanted to see it get done before June 30." Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, says there was optimism about getting a deal by June 30. "But I don't think that the path to that final compromise is really very clear at this point," he adds.
Addressing TCC members on May 30, House transportation committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "I'm going to do everything I can to get the bill across the line."
Rep. Nick J. Rahall (W.Va.), the transportation panel's top Democrat, said aides have had serious negotiations but "haven't addressed … the many elephants in the room yet." He was referring to the toughest issues, such as financing and Keystone. Rahall said he hoped those topics would be tackled "in the very, very near future."
But June 30 is just ahead. Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association senior vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs, says, "I think we've got a short period of time, and that's why we've got to keep the pressure on."