Lawmakers Cross Party Lines on Transpo Funding as Debate Rages

An 18-month extension of existing transportation law cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, but not before spirited debate on a proposal billed as a compromise with House members who remain strongly opposed to the Senate’s stopgap.

Sen_Barbara_Boxer_D_CA_1.jpgBarbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of theSenate environment committee (Photo: Politics Now)

The "clean" re-upping of the 2005 transport law, stripped of the few reforms the Obama administration had proposed, passed with one dissenting vote: Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who lost a bid — on his birthday — to cut the extension down to 12 months.

"Everyone realizes the current law is inadequate to get the job done," said Voinovich, who has aligned with Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and his House transportation committee to fight the White House and Senate on the extension.

"We have a Senate and we have a House … what I’m proposing here is something very reasonable."

Voinovich’s compromise won support from three Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (MT), whose panel has the tricky task of approving $20 billion in spending cuts or offsets to keep the nation’s highway trust fund flush until after the 2010 midterm elections.

But the 12-month proposal fell on an 8-11 vote, with environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offering Voinovich a contrite birthday consolation and a promise to tackle a "transformational" transportation bill — once the thorny question of revenue is sorted out.

"There is way less of a chance that, if we go 18 months, we’ll have to do another extension," Boxer said. Though "I respect, like, love" Oberstar, the chairman added, "in order to meet his six-year bill, you’d have to double the gas tax."

Boxer has said she is open to indexing the gas tax, which has gone untouched by Washington since 1993, to inflation. Any increases, however, face an uphill battle winning over re-election-minded lawmakers.

The 18-month extension must be merged with corresponding legislation from the Senate Commerce and Banking Committees before heading to the Finance panel for its revenue portion to be completed.

Yet the bill appears set to founder in the House, given Oberstar’s fierce opposition, leaving Congress without a clear path on transportation policy and only three weeks to go to meet the U.S. DOT’s deadline for bailing out the highway trust fund.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Voinovich Joins House Dems in Saying No to Transpo Funding Stopgap

|
Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) allied with House Democrats today. (Photo: UPI) The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will move tomorrow on a White House-backed extension of the four-year-old federal transportation law, but at least one of its members is already opposed. George Voinovich (R-OH) linked arms with House Democratic leaders on the transportation panel […]

House Voting Today on Transport Law Extension — Or Not?

|
(ed. note: This post has been updated to reflect late-breaking news as of Wednesday afternoon.) House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) plan for a three-month extension of the 2005 federal infrastructure law, appears on track for a vote this afternoon, despite reports that GOP opposition unexpectedly derailed consideration of the bill. House transport committee […]

Warner Scores a (Small) Win for White House’s Transportation Agenda

|
While it pushes for an 18-month delay in the next federal infrastructure bill, the Obama administration has proposed a data collection effort that would help states and localities begin tracking ridership and usage of transit, roads, buses, and the like — a small put pivotal step towards enacting national performance standards for transportation. Sen. Mark […]

A Quick Guide to the State of Transpo Policy on Capitol Hill

|
Coming back to Streetsblog after a few months away, I needed to get up to speed on the latest with transportation-related legislation, and I thought some of you might too. Here’s what you need to know: Appropriations House Republicans passed a pretty terrible Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill last week, decimating […]