Live-Blogging the First Meeting of the Transportation Conference Committee

5:41 Adjourned. Thanks for following our live-blog coverage — all 3,276 words of it.

5:40 Boxer: I heard no lines in the sand here today, I heard lots of passion. I’m going to do everything to improve the Senate bill. I’m going to work with you, but it does streamline dramatically. Sen. Inhofe wouldn’t vote for a bill that doesn’t. If necessary, we’ll be back here in 20-some days.

5:39 John Mica: Important that we blend our ideas and maintain our principles.

5:38 That was the last speaker! House just called a vote, Mica giving a one-minute wrap-up, then Boxer will, and then we’re done here.

5:36 Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), T&I member and ouster of Rep. James Oberstar: Given current budget environment, we need to make better use of taxpayer dollars without adding to the debt. Technology can make “game-changing innovations” to make better transportation infrastructure.

5:35 Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), sponsor of controversial amendment to “eviscerate” NEPA (in words of many opponents): We can have low-cost construction without eviscerating the environment.

5:34 Sen. Boxer puts into the record the GAO study that all states are actually getting back more than they put into the trust fund.

5:31 Rep. James Lankford (R-OK): Essential to take control out of this room and bring it to people who live with “that bad bridge,” so they can determine how to fix that bad bridge — not people who have never been to that bridge. “We have to honor every gallon of gas that every American purchases” to make sure it goes back to pay for those highways. No earmarks, no tax increases.

5:30 Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL): Americans want transportation bill that adds value. They want certainty.

5:28 Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY): I’m a former contractor, have employed hundreds of people, completed thousands of projects. Lots of people are wondering why they’re not back to work. These projects aren’t expenses, they’re investments in the future that pay for themselves. I’ve watched these extensions go on, knowing that prices have never been lower in this country. We’re past the time for extensions. This two-year bill will soon enough be a one-year bill. I’m tired of that.

5:25 Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN): Government doesn’t have enough money to meet infrastructure needs — we need private sector. Funding formulas need to be fair — Indiana is a “donor state.” [Untrue.]

5:22 Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY): Let’s not miss another construction season. There’s no perfect legislation, MAP-21 is good legislation. MAP-21 will save 1.8 million jobs and create another 1 million jobs [A-ha: hence the varying numbers.]

5:21 Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA): I laud merits of Senate bill but doesn’t neither bill provides long-term solution for how to pay for improvements to aging infrastructure.

5:17 Sen. Chuck Schumer has arrived. Says this bill is just what Americans want: jobs, infrastructure, and bipartisanship (with no fighting.) Hope example of Boxer and Inhofe will be the seam of this conference. Investing in infrastructure is a fundamental responsibility of government. Senate bill gives states tools and resources to provide “large legacy” for mass transit systems. Some of you don’t have a lot of transit in your districts. For us, mass transit is what highways are in other states. New York serves 2.6 billion trips a year on transit. We can’t do it without transit. We need help on mass transit. We will fight very, very hard for it. It’s as important to us as roads are to you.

5:16 Boswell: Let’s don’t have another bridge fall because we couldn’t do our work.

5:14 Rep. Leonard Boswell (R-IA): It’s time to fish or cut bait. Madame Chairman, could you bring an expert to tell us what Keystone really means? We all understand the jobs part. But what happens to finished product, gas at the pump? I don’t want something to happen in your district or mine – we all have a lot of deficient bridges. This country is built on compromise.

5:12 Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT): [Some comic relief:] I’m honored to address a few of my colleagues and so many Senate staffers today.

5:10 Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD): We should begin by recommit ourselves to reinvesting in the value of our nation. I wish we in the House had been able to pass a bipartisan transportation bill. Senate’s MAP-21 must form basis of our discussion. I will oppose any provision that ask workers to be piggy bank when the rich haven’t been asked to contribute one penny.

5:06 Rep. Bill Schuster (R-PA), chair of Rail Subcommittee: Streamlining provisions are important, it takes average of 14-15 years to complete major construction project [anyone want to fact-check this?]. Unconscionable for me to tell people of my state we have to take this money and spend it on bike paths. It’s money that could save lives on roadways.

5:04 Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL): Nobody in this room, but lots of people in House talk about the Senate, but thank god for the Senate — they put forth a real bill. Chinese putting $350 billion into transit, House is trying to cut funding for transit for first time since Ronald Reagan put it in the Trust Fund. I support Amtrak 100 percent, we need to continue to invest in it.

5:00 Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): We’re going to have to abandon some of the “poison pills” like Keystone and extreme streamlining measures that undercut NEPA. Go through normal process for Keystone review. Appears we’re “all on the same page again — at least I hope we are” that transit stays in the trust fund. I hope we get this done and don’t have to pass another extension at the end of June.

4:57 Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) notes that there are three West Virginians on this committee (out of 47 members) [that's pretty remarkable]. Transportation bill, Keystone pipeline means jobs.

4:55 Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) arrived! We’re on cusp on giving states the certainty they need to make infrastructure investments. If we don’t pass a bill we risk bankrupting the trust fund. Given high stakes, no one in this room should put politics ahead of efforts to create 2-3 million jobs [fudging on those controversial numbers].

4:53 Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): This bill feeds so many parts of U.S. economy. I have long list of most and least favorite parts of your bill, Sen. Boxer. But I’m not going to use few minutes I have to detail my druthers. I’m going to try practicing what I’ve been preaching: we simply must get a bill out of this conference committee. This is likely to be the only jobs bill to come out of the 112th Congress. This bill already incorporates a ton of compromises. There are going to have to be more.

4:49 Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), sponsor of GAS Act: We have opportunity to show Senate and House can come together to meet infrastructure needs of our great country. American people would be disappointed if this fell apart because of something like Keystone and coal ash. Only 60 miles of 1,700 mile pipeline have changed. No administration has ever treated coal ash as hazardous material. Both very popular.

4:49 Sens. Schumer, Menendez aren’t here — surprising, since they’re both big players on transportation.

4:46 Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), chair of House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit: This is most important jobs bill Congress deals with. In H.R. 7 we emphasized streamlining project delivery. We’ve talked about this for years but haven’t done much at all. A $500 million project that took 14 years to complete would see costs double because of delays. We must set hard deadlines for federal agencies to approve projects, delegate more authority to states.

4:43 Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL): People are hurting in the Gulf. Allow BP fine money — somewhere between $5-20 billion —  to go to oil spill trust fund and get doled out according to bipartisan formula.

4:41 Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR): Seven states will forgo 60,000 jobs this season because of temporary extensions. Can’t plan. If we successfully conclude this conference quickly, we can reinstate those jobs. Steel, manufacturing, transit jobs — not just construction.

4:40 Hoeven: In my state alone, pipeline would take 500 trucks a day off the road.

4:39 Hoeven: Keystone will reduce gas prices and dependence on foreign oil.

4:37 Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND): Supported House approach, five-year bill and expanded energy production. Hope that will happen in the future, but in the meantime this two-year bill is a good bill. Two important provisions: Keystone pipeline and provision for “recycling” coal ash. Both are integral to bipartisan bill.

4:35 Rep. Don Young (R-AK), former chair of T&I: Fifteen years’ delay in road construction is waste of money. Earmarks would have gotten this bill done. Transportation is something everyone should have an interest in. We’re neglecting our duty if we don’t establish a good transportation bill.

4:34 Johnson: “There is no Democrat or Republican bridge.” [Conference drinking game participants: Take a shot.]

4:31 Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX): Average Dallas commuter spent 45 hours stuck in traffic last year, costing them $924. A third of Texas transportation budget is spent on maintenance. Wants to make sure U.S. DOT has R&D funds they need. Need to invest in research for environmentally sustainable infrastructure.

4:28 Vitter: We can do it with no earmarks. His three priorities: 1) Keystone pipeline, 2) RESTORE Act, 3) keeping funding for maritime infrastructure (RAMP Act).

4:26 Sen. David Vitter (R-LA): During last recess, I bet all of us heard two themes from constituents: 1) big challenge is jobs, 2) please work together more effectively in Washington. Get beyond bitter partisanship. This conference committee is a test.

4:24: Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX): Supports RESTORE Act for Gulf Coast.

4:22 Durbin: This is the second Keystone pipeline. First goes through Illinois. They say if we pass this bill today, gas prices will go down tomorrow. Not true. Coal ash: We’ve got a ferry that drops 500 tons of coal ash in Lake Michigan every year. If you would like those 500 tons of coal ash in your state, please let us know what lake we can send them to.

4:22 Durbin: Groups that don’t even talk to each other — AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce — joined together to mobilize against House bill. “They hate your bill.”

4:20 Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL), Majority Whip: We eliminated Congressionally directed spending (earmarks) – 535 little engines that used to pull this bill across the finish line. We can’t even agree on what should come out of this conference committee. We have a bill. You have an extension of current law with a bunch of extra riders.

4:19 Boxer time-check: We have an hour and a half left if everybody sticks to the time. We’re doing well. (And have some coffee.) Down to three minutes per senator now that we’ve heard from the chairpeople.

4:17 Markey: House provision provides “sweeping environmental waivers on ALL transportation projects.” Arbitrary time limits and exemptions will make statute meaningless. NEPA process is not a barrier, it’s a shield protecting families from big government building roads without considering those living in the area.

4:14 Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Dem on Natural Resources Committee: Previous conferences succeeded by balancing transportation needs and quality of life considerations. Unfortunately, House provisions make achieving such balance more difficult. TransCanada re-applied last week for pipeline permit. State Department is committed to a thorough review of the permit. House provision would eliminate that review and all public input. Natural gas in pipeline would be exported out of U.S. anyway.

4:09 Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Commerce Committee Ranking Member: We’ve come to complete consensus on our committee on our part of this bill. Includes provisions for interstate motorcoach safety standards.

4:09 Hastings: Congress hasn’t done enough to expand drilling.

4:05 Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), chair of Natural Resources Committee: Reduce costly, overlapping environmental paperwork. It’s cheaper to build road if federal government stops requiring more miles of paperwork than asphalt. RESTORE Act would help Gulf states, create broad new spending programs. I’m sympathetic to impact of spill, but shouldn’t require ballooning federal bureaucracy with new permanent federal programs. Senate put in $1.4 billion in automatic spending for Land and Water Conservation Fund.

4:04 Rockefeller: Don’t mind going into conference without anything from the House, we’ll get to a better place.

4:02 Rockefeller: In amount of time it takes to text, if you’re driving on windy WV roads, you’ve gone “over a cliff or into a tree.” People die from that stuff.

4:00 Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Commerce Committee chair: We talk about safety as if it would happen naturally. You have to talk about it in legislation or else it won’t happen. Drunk driving, seat belt use. Did he just say “children are larger”?

3:59 Waxman: Hope GOP won’t hold nation’s transportation system hostage over these issues.

3:58 Waxman: Tennessee coal ash spill created $1.2 billion superfund cleanup site. Should not use “half-truths and scare tactics.” Also, “terrible” Ribble Act “eviscerating” NEPAmust be rejected.

3:55 Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking Dem on Energy and Commerce: Senate transpo bill includes safety measures that will reduce risk of sudden acceleration, etc. Improves transparency. Requires child safety seat updates, motorcoach standards. House bill includes “extraneous and anti-environmental provisions” including “a legislative earmark” for Keystone pipeline. President has made clear he will not sign this. Coal ash provision also extraneous. Let EPA continue process of figuring out how to regulate coal ash.

3:53 Shelby supports RESTORE Act, included by House amendment, to help assist Gulf Coast states that were impacted by Deepwater Horizon oil spill. [This is popular legislation, a sweetener for Democrats among House amendments.]

3:50 Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking Republican on Banking Committee [jurisdiction over transit]: We eliminated all earmarks that were in reauthorization bill, allowing us to increase guaranteed formula funding for transit. We must institute system of greater accountability, real investment in maintaining aging public transportation infrastructure. State of good repair important, Senate bill puts it front and center.

3:50 Sen. Boxer calling on members in order of seniority.

3:48 Upton: Keystone pipeline belongs in final agreement. After all, it’s the “ultimate jobs and infrastructure project” and this is a jobs and infrastructure bill.

3:45 Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Commerce Committee Chair: This bill will get economy moving. Vehicle safety: make sure NHTSA has a clear focus, no diversion from existing priorities. Supports House measure ensuring that harbor maintenance money go toward dredging — important for Great Lakes. Also, expedited approval for Keystone pipeline is important, so is coal ash deregulation. These make “perfect sense” in transportation bill. Coal ash is related to concrete, reclassification as hazardous waste would make road-building more expensive.

3:44 Johnson: I hope this conference doesn’t get bogged down with controversial issues that don’t relate to transportation.

3:42 Sen. Tim Johnson, Banking Committee Chair [has jurisdiction over transit]: Americans make 35 million trips on public transportation every weekday. MAP-21 will help transit agencies make backlogged repairs, reforms safety oversight.

3:41 Blumenauer: Support transit parity for commuters.

3:40 Blumenauer: Keep fix-it-first measure. Keep Buy America provisions, keep American spending in America.

3:39 Blumenauer: Preserve Cardin-Cochran amendment to keep local control over ever-popular enhancement programs, biking and walking, safety. Also, keep imperfect Senate NEPA provisions. Protect public’s ability to participate. House language would allow projects to go forward without any coordination with locals.

3:37 Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), bike champion, Ways and Means member: Every $1 billion spent on transportation –> 35,000 jobs. Let’s not get bogged down in “unrelated and divisive political projects” like Keystone. Senate bill is already a bipartisan compromise and we thank you for the work you’ve done. House bill was never even voted on.

3:36 Hatch notes support for Keystone XL pipeline, creates jobs, brings energy from a “friendly country.”

3:33 Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Finance Committee Ranking Member: Short-term extension reduces ability to think long-term. Concerned Senate finance title is not “sustainable and predictable” path. “Searching between the couch cushions for loose change.” Says HTF should maintain “user-pays” principle. Users shouldn’t have to pay for “other fashionable programs that they do not use.”

3:31 Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), House Ways and Means Committee Chair: Highway programs must be sustainable. 1) Must take fiscally responsible route to infrastructure improvements, 2) More, not fewer, opportunities for job creation. First mention of Keystone pipeline so far: “If administration refuses to act, then Congress must.”

3:30 Baucus says his plan reduces the deficit by $10 billion over 10 years. Replenishes general fund for any amount transfered into highway trust fund. “This shorter bill is what we could afford.” Significant reforms like program consolidation, safety funding, national freight network, performance measures are included.

3:28 Sen. Baucus’ turn. Montanans sent him back with one clear priority: “jobs.” Double digit unemployment in western Montana. [Note: Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and the EPW's subcommittee on transportation. The $12 billion pay-for has his stamp on it. He's supposedly good friends with Republican Rep. Dave Camp, also on the conference, and they're expected to hammer out the pay-for together.]

3:27 Rahall quippy soundbite: We cannot let our hard heads get in the way of the hard hats.

3:26 Rahall notes there are only 22 legislative days before June 30 deadline. Construction season has already started. Time for hiring is almost up. Give them certainty, not 90 days at a time. Let them know they can hire workers.

3:25 Rahall: 2 million construction and manufacturing workers are waiting for jobs. [Lots of different jobs numbers floating around here.]

3:24 Rahall, top Democrat on T&I: Confident we will “not botch this opportunity.” Congratulates the eight freshmen on the committee — says it’s an honor. [Note: lots of people are worried that these freshmen are very ideological deficit hawks, won't compromise on spending.]

3:23 Inhofe said he was the only Republican who came to Norm Mineta’s fundraisers when he was in the House because they agreed on infrastructure.

3:21 Inhofe: Tell conservative House members that the conservative position is to pass this thing. The most meaningful reform to conservatives is on enhancements. Two percent of total funding falls into “highway beautification, museums.” [Note: most of it actually goes to active transportation.] “That’s not a good program.”

3:20 Inhofe’s turn: People said there’s no way you’re going to get a bill in an election year. We fooled ‘em — we did it.

3:19 Mica says “do more with less.” I think we should all take a shot every time someone says that.

3:18 Mica: We’re not going to raise taxes. Anyone who wants to raise taxes, you’re on the wrong conference committee. We’re not going to have earmarks. We’re not going to add red tape. “Shovel-ready” is a national joke. People say if the federal government gets involved, the project takes 2-3 times as long, costs 3-4 times as much. That’s not the way to go.

3:17 Mica: Focus on what’s in the transportation bill. Has to include serious reforms. “Can’t just throw money at problems — they tried that in the stimulus bill.” Only seven percent of stimulus was infrastructure.

3:16 Mica regrets that the administration opted to “cut Oberstar’s legs out from underneath him” when he tried to pass a six-year bill.

3:14 Boxer turns it over to Mica. Mica recalls starting listening sessions in Beckley, WV and hearing from stakeholders.

3:13 Boxer: we can do it because MAP-21 got 74 votes. Expanded TIFIA program leverages money 30 to 1. It’s a real reform bill, consolidates 90 highway programs to 30.

3:11 Boxer shows picture of Super Bowl stadium, says we have twelve times that many unemployed construction workers.

3:11 Boxer: uncertainty causes construction businesses to rent, not buy, equipment, placing further drag on economy.

3:10 Boxer directs her remarks to Sen. Chuck Schumer. Says we have opportunity to create or save 3 million jobs (the number usually quoted is 1.8 million).

3:08 Boxer nominated Mica as vice-chair. Lays out work of the committee, that it has to work without delay to get conference report passed in time.

3:06 Inhofe seconds Boxer’s nomination. Says that he’s one of the most conservative members of the Senate but is a “big spender” when it comes to national security and infrastructure.

3:06 House and Senate take turns chairing the conference. Last one chaired by Rep. Don Young. It’s the Senate’s turn. Mica is speaking now, nominating Barbara Boxer.

3:04 Hasn’t started yet. You can watch it online at http://www.c-span.org/Live-Video/C-SPAN3/ or get the Cliff’s notes here.

2:48: Things will be getting underway shortly.