How the House and Senate Transportation Bills Changed Overnight

The sun rose this morning on a landscape considerably different from the one described by not one but two articles Streetsblog published yesterday.

Harry Reid will face his next tough vote as early as Tuesday. Photo: Office of Harry Reid

Senate Bill Gets Bigger, Better, But Harder to Move

Senator Harry Reid took a lot of business into his own hands yesterday, unveiling his updated version of the Senate’s “two year” bill (it’s really only ever been 18 months), and incorporating the Cardin-Cochran amendment that grants metro areas greater control over bike-ped spending.

Why now? A couple of potential roadblocks fell and Reid probably saw an opportunity. First, the Senate voted down Roy Blunt’s contraception amendment. At the same time, Egypt let the American NGO employees there leave the country, clearing a second “non-germane” amendment to the transportation bill. That only leaves a Keystone XL pipeline amendment… and about a hundred more.

Reid’s inclusion of Cardin-Cochran is good news in that it eliminates the need for a separate vote on that particular amendment. However, Reid’s strategy also sets up a cloture vote on the entire package, which could come as early as next Tuesday. Cloture requires 60 votes to pass (the Democratic caucus controls only 53 seats), and so far, Reid is only 1-for-2 in cloture votes on the transportation bill. If this next vote fails, he will still have to find a way of dealing with the remaining amendments.

He will find it very difficult to bring Republicans over to his side, and it may be getting harder to keep the Democrats in line. Members of both parties are tiring of Reid’s tendency to “fill the tree,” using his authority as majority leader to prevent others from amending the bill (which he also did yesterday).

Two Democrats already broke ranks to vote for the Blunt amendment yesterday, so you can’t say Reid doesn’t know what he’s up against.

House Bill Shrinks to Nothing, Still Stinks

First it was a six-year transportation bill. Then it was a five-year drilling, transportation, and pension reform bill. Then, just for the first half of this week, it was an 18-month bill.

Now there’s no bill, and no indication of when there will be one. So far, Speaker John Boehner’s signature jobs initiative has been marked by setbacks, delays, in-party squabbling and activist outrage. All we know is that however big it is, it will represent leaps and bounds backwards, policy-wise.

We also know that Boehner is running out of time. Current transportation policy expires on March 31. That may sound like 29 days, but remember that the full House isn’t in session on Fridays, and they have the whole week of March 12 off (for spring break, maybe). That really only leaves them 12 days to pass a bill, and debating the transportation bill isn’t scheduled for any of them.

Steve LaTourette told Politico this morning that “three to six weeks would be sort of the reasonable thing to do” if no bill passes by the end of March. Fellow Republican Aaron Schock, who sits in Ray LaHood’s old chair in the House, told Politico that he doesn’t think “anyone anticipates transportation funding running out on March 31.”

It’s worth noting that while the transportation bill was imploding, House Republicans introduced the Jump-start Our Business Start-ups (JOBS) act. It’s small potatoes by comparison, combining six smaller bills that mostly deal with financial regulations. But it’s the first sign of bipartisanship out of a House that has so far catered almost exclusively to the extreme right.