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2009 Transportation Bill

Transportation Filibuster Update: Bunning Won’t Yield to Fellow GOPer

Federal infrastructure funding and many U.S. DOT workers remain in limbo today as Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) continues his one-man filibuster of legislation extending the 2005 transport law, turning himself into a Democratic target and a poster child for Washington gridlock.

art.bunning.gi.pngSen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) was heard quipping "tough s---t" as he began blocking an extension of transportation law. (Photo: CNN)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) took to the floor of Congress' upper chamber this morning to seek Bunning's consent for a restoration of federal transport law and a one-month extension of unemployment benefits, but the cantankerous Kentuckian would not yield -- even to a fellow Republican.

The shutdown of federal reimbursement for road, bridge, bike-ped, and transit spending is costing states and localities $183 million per day, according to House transportation committee estimates.

Bunning's action has the effect of a classic filibuster, but his official gambit has been ongoing objection to a vote on extending infrastructure, unemployment, and several other programs. That one-month stopgap would cost $10 billion, which Bunning wants to see paid for by taking money from the White House's stimulus law.

Yet he has refused Senate leaders' offer to vote on his proposal to use stimulus money, acknowledging that it lacks the votes to pass. In the meantime, thousands more U.S. DOT employees, including Federal Transit Administration workers, are facing forced furloughs today.

"The timing could not be worse for a lot of
reasons," Nevada state DOT director Susan Martinovich said in a statement released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). "States need every dollar
they can get to improve our aging roads and bridges and put people to
work. ... We should be awarding contracts for
spring construction right now, but instead many states are forced to
delay, and in some cases cancel, projects."

Democrats openly branded Bunning as the face of Senate GOP obstructionism, with several majority-party lawmakers sending him direct cease-and-desist appeals.

"This is completely
unacceptable," Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote in a letter to Bunning. "We can’t have an economic
recovery if people can’t make ends meet and if transportation projects
grind to a halt."

But when Senate Democrats released a new $150 billion jobs plan yesterday that would retroactively extend unemployment benefits until 2011, an extension of federal transportation funding was not part of the package.

The reason for the omission: a re-up of the 2005 transportation law until the end of the year is part of the $15 billion Senate jobs bill that is still awaiting action in the House, where fiscally hawkish Blue Dogs and members of the Congressional Black Caucus remain reluctant to sign off on the legislation.

If the House can muster up the votes to pass the $15 billion Senate measure this week, the U.S. DOT would be able to end its furloughs and spending freezes without the need for Bunning to relent.

Rep. James Clyburn (SC), the House Democrats' No. 3 leader, told reporters yesterday that "no one's got any problem with ... what the [Senate jobs] bill is intended to do." House Democrats are hesitant to endorse the Senate jobs bill, Clyburn said, because of its greater emphasis on tax cuts than on "direct investments." Still, he predicted that House-side questions about the jobs bill could be resolved by today or tomorrow.

In the interim, however, uncertainty reigns for federal transportation rules.

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