While their colleagues in the House were debating more than 80 amendments to a transportation bill, members of the Senate Banking Committee were quietly passing their two-year transit bill with — get this — unanimous bipartisan support. The bill includes some reforms — such as allowing federal funds to be spent on transit operations — that transit advocates have been pushing for.
The Senate has so far reached bipartisan agreement on two out of three portions of their two-year bill. The only remaining title to be approved, the Finance Committee’s portion, will be taken up shortly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to take the entire transportation package to the Senate floor on February 13.
The Senate bill’s progress draws a stark contrast with the legislative efforts underway in the House. The House bill has also moved forward at an aggressive pace, but it has looked worse and worse at every step. The most recent revelation, that the bill’s financing component would potentially eviscerate dedicated funding for transit, is only the latest in a long line of attacks on walking, biking, and transit. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told Politico earlier today, “It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.” LaHood also gave credit to the Senate Environment & Public Works committee for legislating in good faith:
They get it. They passed a bipartisan bill with no dissenting votes in their committee. Because they worked together, and they really tried to put together a bill that reflects the transportation values of the senators… That’s not what happened in the House. Look, this is obviously a one-man show in the House.
LaHood was singling out John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, but the real star of the show may be Speaker John Boehner. With each successive piece of legislation, Boehner has forced his party and his chamber farther and farther away from the long-standing precedent of bipartisan transportation bills. With a highway-centric, drilling-heavy, transit-averse, anti-bike/ped, Keystone-pipeline-linked bill all but doomed to fail in the Senate, Boehner has reduced the reauthorization debate to a crude political tool.
“I used to rail against the Senate,” said Rep. Corrine Brown at today’s House markup (which, at the time of this writing, has just entered its second recess of the day). “But now I thank God for the Senate.”