Prospects for Oberstar’s Transportation Reauthorization Dimming

House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has been fighting the good fight in trying to keep the hopes for a 2009 transportation bill alive, but the odds appear to be dimming by the day. 

Oberstar’s latest gambit, as reported by Elana, is a move to trim the trust fund patch to a mere $3 billion, which will only last through September.

The hope appears to be that given more time an agreement can be reached on the difficult question of how to fund the large-scale transportation investments called for in his bill.

It’s a long shot at best. It seems increasingly likely that consideration of the health care legislation in Congress will be prolonged through the August recess.

Such a delay would leave precious little time in September for resolution of the critical issues facing the transportation package.

It would also force legislators to try and address the funding issue while simultaneously dealing with the tax and budget implications of health care, as well as energy legislation. The administration isn’t anxious to handle all three at once now, and it’s unlikely to feel much different in the autumn.

What’s more, the Senate has larded its bill with goodies designed to appeal to potential Oberstar allies in the House. Not only will transit receive an unexpected $4.8 billion as part of the trust fund plug, but the trust fund will have restored to it funds previously taken to handle other spending needs, and it will again retain any interest that it earns.

With both the Senate and the administration tilting against the transportation bill’s authors, and with a sweet alternative on the table, the deck is stacked against Oberstar.

This morning’s Congressional schedule is instructive. Oberstar is scheduled to testify about his preferred strategy at a House Ways and Means committee meaning beginning at 10 am. But the Senate Banking Committee — which will be the last to weigh in on the Senate’s preferred 18-month extension — will be discussing the matter at 9:30 am.

The Senate may well have closed the book on the extension before Oberstar finishes talking.

With so much on the legislative table this year, it was always going to be difficult to get a major transportation overhaul negotiated and passed. The sun hasn’t entirely set on the 2009 reauthorization, but the light is growing very dim.


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