Thursday, March 08, 2012

Transportation Bill Exemplifies Broken Congressional System

Mar 8: In a classic example of why the Congressional approval rating is around 10%, the House and Senate have both demonstrated an inability to address the critical need of adopting a transportation funding reauthorization bill, despite bipartisan backing and support from over 1,000 diverse organizations that have come together despite their differences [See WIMS 2/15/12]. The current surface transportation bill expires on March 31, and the many groups, ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO, have called for immediate action to reauthorize the nation's transportation programs. Instead, the House and Senate have been bogged down for over a month debating non-germane related amendments and issues including even an amendment to a transportation bill by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to allow employers to object to providing insurance coverage for birth control.
    Reportedly, the Senate leadership has now reached a "deal" to consider some 30 amendments to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated last evening that the Senate would consider the amendments today, but other reports indicate that only some will be dealt with today and the others will be addressed next week. The Hill publication reports that, "Among the amendments that will get a vote are ones from Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to extend oil and gas drilling permits in the Outer Continental Shelf, one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to eliminate duplicative federal programs and one from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to reduce the 2013 discretionary spending cap. Another amendment authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline is also up for a vote."
    Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) issued a statement on March 6 saying in response to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) comments that he is open to bringing up the Senate's bipartisan highway bill (S.1813) saying, "Senate Republicans have been using amendments to delay this bipartisan highway bill until Speaker Boehner could figure out a path for dealing with it in the House. Now that the Speaker has publicly signaled he is willing to buck his conservative bloc and give the Senate bill a vote, momentum is on our side. Senate Republicans have no reason to drag this out any longer."
    On the House side, the path may not be so clear. An earlier attempt to pass a highly controversial bill failed and then Speaker Boehner indicated that the House might consider a Senate bill. However, on March 7, at a GOP Conference, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) indicated that his long-term (5 years) transportation reform bill received the support of U.S. House leaders and will continue to be the focus of efforts to pass a major transportation and energy jobs initiative through the House.
    Rep. Mica said, "House leaders and I agree that the five-year transportation measure approved by the Committee in February is the best option for a job-creating bill to improve our infrastructure. During a meeting today with House Republicans, we had a productive discussion and outlined our hope to move forward with the Committee's five-year bill with a few changes, including the financing of transit from the Highway Trust Fund. The Committee crafted a responsible bill with much needed and long overdue reforms. Working with the Republican leadership and GOP Conference members, we hope to move forward with a bill in the coming weeks that will create jobs and lower energy costs for Americans."
    Access a Reuters article on Senate consideration of S.1813 (click here). Access The Hill article on Senate consideration of S.1813 (click here). Access the Sen. Schumer statement (click here). Access the statement from Rep. Mica (click here). Access a listing of the Senate amendments to be considered (click here); and (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). Access the Senate roll call votes as they occur (click here). [#Transport]
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