Senate Signals 6-Month Delay for Transport Bill — But Will the House Agree?

The Senate is leaning towards abandoning the Obama administration’s push for an 18-month delay of the next long-term transportation bill and now plans to pursue a six-month extension of existing federal infrastructure law, according to a report from CQ this afternoon:

0131mnfederal_dd_graphic_oberstar.jpgRep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) (Photo: Capitol Chatter)

An industry
official said the senators realized they would have trouble moving the
administration-backed 18-month extension, so they acquiesced to a
shorter term bill. …

A shorter extension would be a victory for
proponents of long-term transportation legislation such as the
six-year, $500 billion plan being pressed by House Transportation and
Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn.

But would Oberstar be inclined to see a six-month delay as a victory? Oberstar and his top transportation lieutenant, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), have warned that a series of short-term delays in the next infrastructure law risks compromising U.S. economic recovery, and it’s not clear that House members would go along with a six-month extension.

"At this point, we are sticking with the extension to the end of December that passed the House," Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard said in an interview.

One factor that may add a new wrinkle to the debate is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) push for a fresh round of job-creation legislation, which has given Oberstar new momentum to pitch his long-term infrastructure bill as part of the overall stimulus effort.

Pelosi aligned with Oberstar’s position on a new transportation bill earlier this year; if the Speaker keeps more extra infrastructure spending from the government’s general fund in the economic stimulus mix, the House’s opposition to a longer-term extension could ease somewhat. The puzzle remains how to pay for more federal transportation investment, given widespread resistance in Washington to raising the gas tax.

Should the Senate win passage of a six-month extension, the earliest possible deadline for Congress to take up Oberstar’s six-year bill — which provides about $100 billion for transit and $337 billion for highways — would be the end of April. The 2005 infrastructure law, however, is operating under a one-month extension that expires at the end of this month, meaning that lawmakers may have to push it forward for one more month before reaching a final deal.

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