With less than a month until highway and transit funding expires, haggling continues in the House and Senate on their differing versions of a multi-year authorization bill.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been trying to modify the five-year, $260-billion transportation/energy package that has cleared committee, but has had little success so far.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on March 1 fended off one controversial amendment to a pending $109-billion, two-year highway-transit measure, but says dozens more are waiting in the wings.
Boehner, in his March 1 weekly press conference, was asked whether a shortened, 18-month bill--something the House GOP reportedly is considering--is a live option, But Boehner said, "Apparently our members don't think too highly of it. I would only look at it as a fallback measure."
He made his preference clear: "We ought to do this the right way," Boehner said. "We've had five year, six-year reauthorizations of the highway bill. I think it's important for the states, and for those who are going to invest in this arena, to have a broad horizon, so they'd know where we're going--and a five-year bill is the best way to get there. Whether we can achieve that, given the differences, we'll see."
Those differences include anti-spending lawmakers who want to hold down the measure's cost and House members from metro areas who want to delete a provision in the pending five-year bill that would cut off Highway Trust Fund aid for mass transit.
Not long after Boehner's meeting wrapped up, elsewhere in the Capitol, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders went before the press to hail the vote in that chamber to block a non-transportation amendment to the pending two-year highway-transit bill.
The vote was on a proposal from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to change the Obama administration policy on health-care coverage for contraceptives. Reid's side won, on a tight, 51-48 tally, generally along party lines.
But that vote didn't clear the path for the underlying transportation bill's path.
Obviously unhappy that the highway-transit measure was being held up, Reid told the gathered reporters: "Now, you would think after getting rid of this controversial amendment we could move on and do the bill. How I wish that were true." He said more than 100 other proposed amendments to the measure had been filed--"and they're still coming in, folks."
He said the amendments were an attempt to sabotage a jobs-producing highway-transit bill.
Reid noted, "Ninety percent of these amendments have nothing to do with a highway bill." He said that among the proposed amendments are ones to "relitigate" the turndown of the Keystone XL pipeline application and to undo an EPA rule dealing with air pollution emissions from boilers. There's also an amendment that Reid said concerned foreign policy in the Middle East
"Not passing this bill is not going to help the economy." Reid added, "So I'll continue to work and be as patient as I can to come up with a way forward on this bill. But right now, I don't see it."
That's discouraging news to state DOT officials and transportation construction firms that have endured more than two years of funding by short-term stopgap authorizations.