Another Delay: Will There Ever Be a New Reauthorization?

The Congressional calendar for January leaves little time to debate a new transportation proposal. Source: Majority Leader's office

SAFETEA-LU has been extended eight times over more than two years. Legislators on both sides are tired of delays and see the need for a new reauthorization bill that sets new policy and does something about the Highway Trust Fund before it runs clean out of cash.

But House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica said yesterday the bill wouldn’t be introduced until January, which really means February, given the way the Congressional calendar works. The House bill, which seeks to fund infrastructure development with oil drilling revenues doesn’t have a chance of making it past a Democratic Senate and President anyway. (And even if it did, experts say the revenues would be too low and too slow in coming to have a chance of actually funding the transportation program.)

Still, it would have been good to at least have that conversation before the end of the year, to give lawmakers a fighting chance of coming up with something else before the current bill extension expires March 31.

Will two months be enough to debate and pass a new transportation bill? Experts are skeptical. “It appears the nation is on course to witness yet another band-aid extension of the last reauthorization,” said Michael Surusco, senior investigator at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “This is no way to run the nation’s surface transportation program.”

Sadly, that’s no surprise for many transportation experts who’ve grown jaded with the process of waiting for a new bill. In a recent unscientific poll, Politico reporter Adam Snider asked transportation experts when they thought a new reauthorization bill would actually pass. Two-thirds expected another extension would be necessary after March 31. And that was a month ago, when prospects for a bill were looking considerably brighter.

Waiting in the wings to save this whole process from utter failure, of course, is the Senate bill. There’s room for disappointment in the bill and its funding gap hasn’t yet been closed, but it’s it has been tested on the partisan battlefield and emerged unscathed, with a unanimous yes vote in the EPW Committee. Could that be the default option that saves us from a ninth extension come March?

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