Time Ticking for Transportation

Lawmakers are running out of time to reach a deal on highway and transit funding.  The current short-term measure expires at the end of the month and CQ (sub. req’d) reports another extension is likely:

While conferees say they continue to negotiate, progress has been slow and hopes for finishing a conference report on the bill (HR 4348) and getting it through both chambers before the end of the month are fading. 

The catch is that House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will insist on a six-month extension, punting the issue until after the election if conferees cannot finish their work on time. Another short-term extension would require Boehner to relent on that threat if conferees appeared to be moving close to an agreement. 

House and Senate conferees remain at odds even over core transportation issues, including easing environmental and regulatory reviews of transportation projects and relaxing requirements that states spend a portion of federal highway aid on enhancements such as highway beautification, bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways.

An industry lobbyist put the odds of getting a deal done at 50/50.  For those dreaming of a massive, multi-year bill, that is of little comfort.  But for taxpayers, the stalemate is actually good news.  Considering most Republicans and every Democrat want to spend well beyond the revenues projected to come into the federal Highway Trust Fund, a multi-year deal would leave taxpayers on the hook for some big money – $15+ billion a year is nothing to sneeze at, even by Washington standards.

In the long run, the stalemate reveals that Congress is simply not capable of handling highway and transit policy.  A better option would be to return that role to where it is most appropriate: the states!  As the Washington morass drags on, the calls for turn back will only grow louder.

Related Links:
Key Vote Alert: CO-SPONSORSHIP of the Transportation Empowerment Act
Heritage Action: On Highways, Local Officials Make the Case
Issue Profile: The Transportation Empowerment Act
Heritage: “Turn Back” Transportation to the States

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