EPW Wraps Up Bipartisan Negotiations

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee just sent out its outline of their transportation reauthorization bill (which many of us found online hours ago.) In the statement, Ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) said:

Today I am pleased join Senator Boxer to announce that we have completed bipartisan negotiations on the highway policies that will be included in the next transportation bill. This is a tremendous step forward. Chairman Boxer has shown her willingness to work with us to produce a bill that should enjoy strong bipartisan support. Our next step is crucial: given the state of our economy, and the debate here in Congress, we must work with Chairman Baucus and Republicans on the Finance Committee to find a way to pay for this bill.

This confirms the rumors we’ve heard: that the Finance Committee has not yet found the $12 billion to cover the gap between the Highway Trust Fund revenues and the bill’s expenditures. The good news, though, is that it means the Senate Republicans have given the OK to the funding levels, which — though a disappointing low point from which to begin negotiations — are higher than in the House bill.

The bill is still highway-heavy because the transit and rail titles are not yet in it. Though the transit title, at least, is reportedly ready to go, we don’t know when we’ll see a full bill with all provisions included.

Sen. Barbara Boxer and the EPW staff met with several environmental groups today to talk about the bill, but according to one person who was there, the staff is still “holding their cards very close.” Very little new information came of the meeting. From what we understand, though, bicycle and pedestrian funding — while a minuscule part of the overall bill — became a very large point of contention the two sides had to overcome. As we said earlier, the details of the bike/ped funding have yet to be announced, but so far it looks grim.

Either way, the months of negotiations are over, according to the EPW statement, and we can look forward to a bill rollout soon. House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica still appears to be holding off on introducing his full bill until House leadership clears space for it on the floor schedule, and that won’t be until after the August recess. But Boxer is still indicating a desire to pass her bill out of committee before the recess. It’s the only way to have a fighting chance of passing a bill, and not just a straight SAFETEA-LU extension, on September 30, when the current extension expires.