3 GOPers, 4 Dems Ask Reid to Call Up Six-Month Transport Bill Extension

The senior Republicans on three of the Senate’s four infrastructure-centric committees today signed a bipartisan letter asking the leaders of Congress’ upper chamber to call up a six-month extension of the 2005 transportation law.

Sen_Barbara_Boxer_D_CA_1.jpgSenate environment chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: Politics Now)

In the letter, Sens. Jim Inhofe (OK), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Richard Shelby (AL) joined Democrats in asking both parties’ leaders to overcome the objections of a "small number of senators" who prevented quick passage of a six-month extension in September — citing their opposition to using unspent financial bailout money to keep transportation programs running.

The senior Democrats signing onto the letter were: environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (CA), Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (WV), and Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd (CT). Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus also signed the letter, but the Finance panel’s chief Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), did not attach his name.

A Grassley aide said the senator is concerned about the long-term financial health of the nation’s highway trust fund and would prefer to address the issue in a multi-year bill rather than a months-long extension.

The political climate surrounding infrastructure investment, roiled in recent days by Democrats’ new determination to pass job-creation legislation before the end of the year, remains highly uncertain. But the senators’ letter signals that any new transportation spending is likely to be distributed using the same funding framework used in the 2005 bill, rather than through any revamped policy that might put roads and transit projects on a more equal footing.

The reason, simply put: If a six-month extension wins approval before the current stopgap transportation measure expires on December 18, a 2010 jobs bill could well be on its way to the president’s desk by the time any broad reforms would reach the top of the congressional agenda.

However, the fate of any extra infrastructure spending was not mentioned in the senators’ letter, which emphasized the importance of providing a steady funding stream that would "give states the certainty they need to plan and contract for" road as well as transit and bike infrastructure projects. A cancellation of contract authority triggered by the congressional inaction forced cuts to clean transportation budgets in more than 45 states.

Check out a complete copy of today’s letter after the jump.

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

One of the best ways to spur job creation and economic recovery is through infrastructure investment. That is why a longer term extension of the surface transportation program is so important to maintaining our nation’s vital bridges, roads, public transportation and other related infrastructure, restoring our economy and creating good jobs for American workers.

In July, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs each reported an 18-month ex tension of the surface transportation program prior to the expiration of the 2005 surface transportation bill, the Safe Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), with bipartisan support.

We believe a multi-month extension of SAFETEA-LU is the best solution. It would give states the certainty they need to plan and contract for transportation infrastructure projects. The Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion spent on transportation and matched by the states supports approximately 35,000 jobs. It would also give the Department of Transportation’s highway safety agencies the certainty they need to continue implementing safety-critical programs that keep motorists safe on our roads.

SAFETEA-LU expired at the end of September and, unfortunately, there was objection to floor consideration of the bipartisan legislation extending these important programs. This necessitated two short term extensions to the surface transportation program, attached to Continuing Resolutions. Short term extensions mean less money is available for states, and do not provide states the certainty they need to keep crucial transportation projects moving forward.

On a bipartisan basis, we have decided to move forward with a 6-month extension. Unfortunately, a small number of Senators continue to object and will not allow an extension to be considered by the Senate without a cloture vote.

We urge you to file cloture on the motion to proceed on the 6-month extension and dedicate the time necessary to complete this important legislation, so we can put Americans back to work and keep our economy moving.

(ed. note. This post was updated late Tuesday to add additional information.)

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