Senate leaders have steered their delayed two-year $109-billion highway-transit bill back onto the road to passage. The key was a late-night deal March 7 between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to decide which of amendments could be offered on the floor.
The Senate on March 8 voted on nine of the 30 or so amendments Reid and McConnell agreed to put on the list. Some of the nine proposals were highly controversial and had nothing to do with transportation but did involve construction issues.
Among the amendments that went down was a proposal from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to move the Keystone XL oil pipeline project ahead. That measure came up four votes short of the 60 required for passage.
Also rejected was an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to stretch out the time for the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new rules governing Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) to limit air pollutants emitted by boilers and solid-waste incinerators. Collins' proposal fell eight votes short of the needed 60.
One construction-related amendment that did pass was the "RESTORE" act, offered by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would direct 80% of the Clean Water Act penalties that could be levied against oil giant BP for the 2010 oil spill to restoration of the Gulf Coast. Landrieu's amendment was approved on a strong 76-22 tally.
Landrieu's office says that based on the estimated amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, BP could face fines totaling between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion.
Still ahead for the Senate highway-transit bill are about 20 other amendments, which the chamber is scheduled to take up on March 13. Final Senate passage could come by the end of that day.
Meanwhile, in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to get his GOP colleagues to support a five-year surface transportation bill, but on March 8, Boehner indicated that measure wasn't likely to fly.
He told reporters: "The current plan is to see what the Senate can produce and to bring their bill up. And in the meantime, we're going to continue to have conversations with [House] members about a longer-term approach, which frankly most of our members want. But at this point in time, the plan is to bring up the Senate Bill—or something like it."