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: ##http://reid.senate.gov/about/##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.

  • 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.

  • 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.Sacramento Taxi

  • Tl

    The last paragraph was unnecessary. I don’t read SB for commentary or updates on non-livable-streets issues, nor criticism of the (admittedly insane) right wing, for that matter. Keep it to the relevant stuff without the off-subject swipes and asides.

    (And, you know, keep up the awesome work reporting on the reauthorization process!)

  • Junkpile

    The arcane blue/red blight that inhibits some basic adult supervision of one of the most productive jobs/economy bills is remarkable.  Here is some advice as they roll to the finish line:

    1.  Keep it 5-6 years
    2.  Stick with the no earmarks, silos or set asides
    3.  Emphasize policy that allows states to direct modal appropriateness – not feds
    4.  Advance the consolidation of US DOT – the 58,000 employee federally are many times redundant to state and local staff already in place – at least some efficiency should come from all this effort
    5.  Balance the transportation budget.  At $52B or $55B (House or Senate) per year – it is well above what revenues are in place (about $40B).  While maybe this is way too much to ask from the teenage drama and grease fire that is DC – but can less oxygen in the room be consumed by self serving non-related amendments and blue/red blather and more (at least discussion) effort made to the real problem of finance.  One cent per gallon of user fee (I know gas tax) hardly offsets the lost revenue each year as the CAFE (great way to reduce foreign oil dependency from people that hate us but a real unfunded mandate) standards progress and rob the transportation funding. Don’t even start with tolling or VMT – they are more than 5-20 years out in the blue/red sausage house – fiscal responsibility needs to start right now in the next 5-6 year before the entire industry twists in the wind dying a slow death.  One cent of user fee per gallon raises about $1B per year – the silence here is wrong on both sides of the aisle.

  • juniorbuffett

    Ben, you are doing a good job covering this topic while Tanya is out.  Thanks

  • OK first thing to do is raise the gas tax back to 1993 levels adjusting for inflation, and index the tax to the price of gas as a percentage. That would just about cover the deficit in the transportation budget.

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