House Voting Today on Transport Law Extension — Or Not?

(ed. note: This post has been updated to reflect late-breaking news as of Wednesday afternoon.)

House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) plan for a three-month extension of the 2005 federal infrastructure law, appears on track for a vote this afternoon, despite reports that GOP opposition unexpectedly derailed consideration of the bill.

0131mnfederal_dd_graphic_oberstar.jpgHouse transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) (Photo: Capitol Chatter)

A full copy of the bill is available here. But the bigger question of what happens next, with just three legislative days left until the nation’s transportation law expires, remains unanswered.

Reports emerged this afternoon to suggest that the three-month extension had been pulled from from the House’s "suspensions calendar," used to pass non-controversial
bills that can obtain a two-thirds majority of the chamber.

"The Republican leadership is, for whatever reason, opposing our bill," Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard said in an interview. "I don’t understand why — it’s a clean extension, no different from the 12 extensions we did when we were working on SAFETEA-LU [the existing federal transportation bill] five years ago, when Republicans were in charge."

But sources from the GOP and Democratic sides of the aisle told Streetsblog Capitol Hill that the three-month extension would be taken up on the suspensions calendar later today, generating even more uncertainty over the bill’s ultimate fate.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) said Cantor would join Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. John Mica (FL), senior Republican on Oberstar’s committee, in opposing the three-month extension.

"Mr. Cantor opposes the 3 month extension, along with Mr. Mica and
Leader Boehner, because he favors a longer-term 18 month extension that
brings certainty to the states for their project planning and does not
impose a gas tax upon struggling Americans," Dayspring said via e-mail.

While the three-month extension does not make any changes to the federal gas tax, an increase has been talked about as a possible method for funding Oberstar’s $500 billion, six-year transportation legislation. That long-term proposal includes several broad reforms of the current system as well as a small-scale increase in transit aid.

Meanwhile, two new wrinkles in the story emerged his morning.

First, the subscription-only BNA newsletter reports that Oberstar’s three-month proposal does not include language preventing the cancellation of $8.7 billion in highway contract authority, which is set to take effect next week unless Congress acts. The road lobby is growing increasingly concerned that it could lose out on the money, which Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) promised to restore during floor debate over her proposed 18-month extension of transportation law.

Second, some doubt is beginning to emerge over whether Boxer’s 18-month plan will pass this month. The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin (D-IL), said yesterday that his colleagues are mulling over whether to pass a short-term or long-term extension of the 2005 transport law.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) also told Streetsblog Capitol Hill today that he has "been hearing that there may be just a three-month bill" agreed upon by both chambers of Congress.

With the House also sending the Senate a three-month extension of the law governing federal aviation programs, the upper chamber could decide to bundle the transportation and aviation measures together. Still, a short-term extension is unlikely to sit well with the Obama administration, which continues to seek an 18-month delay.

Streetsblog Capitol Hill has requested comment from Boxer’s office on how she plans to proceed following the House’s vote today. We’ll update you as more becomes available.

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    House Votes For Temporary Extension Of Road Construction Plan

    Dow Jones & Company, Inc. — September 24, 2009

    By Josh Mitchell and Corey Boles

    WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The U.S. House approved legislation Wednesday to
    temporarily extend current funding levels for highway-construction and aviation programs. The moves effectively delay planned overhauls of federal
    transportation policies until at least next year.

    The House voted to extend funding formulas for construction of highways, bridges and mass transit for another three months. Separately, the House voted to extend the taxing and spending authority of the Federal Aviation Administration for another three months.

    Both laws are set to expire Sept. 30. The Senate has yet to act on either
    matter.

    The extension of the highway bill puts on hold efforts by some House Democratic leaders to pass a six-year, $450 billion bill that would set the nation’s long-term transportation priorities and drastically increase spending on infrastructure projects. It deals a setback to construction firms that have pushed for a spending boost to stem rising joblessness in those sectors.

    The legislation could face a hurdle in the Senate, where some members have
    indicated they would push for an 18-month extension, pushing debate on a new
    highway bill until after the 2010 election. President Barack Obama’s
    administration has said it favors an 18-month extension.

    Some senators and Obama officials said they need more time to focus on other
    priorities such as health-care reform and climate-change legislation before
    tackling the transportation debate – which is surely to include the contentious issue of how to find new sources of funding for projects.

    Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday the administration would
    likely defer to Congress on the length of an extension.

    As a backup plan, House lawmakers are expected to include a separate, one- month extension of highway-construction policies in broader legislation to keep the government running through October.

    This legislation, which could face a vote Friday, might be necessary because
    Congress has failed to complete work on the 12 must-pass spending bills that are required to keep the federal government running each year. The one-month
    transportation extension would ensure transportation funding continues past
    Sept. 30 in case the Senate fails to take up the longer, three-month extension.

    The FAA extension act comes as Congress studies wide-ranging legislation that
    would boost funding for an upgrade to the nation’s air-traffic management
    system, make it tougher for airlines to join global alliances that cooperate on scheduling and revenue-sharing and to establish a “passengers’ bill of rights.”

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