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Congress Puts Off Key Decisions on Transpo Bill and Transit Tax Benefit

The website didn't lie: Apparently there really are no markups scheduled on the Senate Banking Committee's calendar.

Wanted a transit title and a commuter benefit for Christmas? All you get is a lump of coal.

Committee Chair Tim Johnson had told Politico that the committee would vote out the transit portion of the MAP-21 transportation bill on Friday, but yesterday, he recanted, telling the same reporters that "something came up."

Johnson said they'll try for next week, but there's no guarantee Congress will still be in session next week. The target adjournment date for the holiday recess had been last Thursday, with that date pushed back to this Friday so Congress could deal with a tangle of issues including the 2012 budget, the payroll tax holiday, and unemployment benefits. The Keystone oil pipeline and tax hikes for millionaires have been thrown into the mix for good measure, too. The McCaskill-Collins attempt to turn the conversation toward infrastructure hasn't gained much traction.

So, it's possible Congress will have to stay in session a bit longer to deal with the mess they've made, but does that mean they'll take that opportunity to blaze forward on transportation? That would be impressive, but don't expect Congress to impress.

Banking's top Republican, Richard Shelby, told Politico the holdup wasn't all about money -- there are "a lot of issues." And a staffer reportedly said the committee would like to pass a bipartisan bill, like EPW, instead of a party-line vote that can be easily toppled.

Meanwhile -- speaking of important legislation being sidelined till next year -- Politico also quoted Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) as saying that extension of the current transit tax benefit could also be off the table for the remainder of this session. Neal said he hasn't gotten a response from key committee leaders about when the measure will be taken up, leading him to think January may be the best bet. An inside source tells Streetsblog the benefit's extension is still a topic of much discussion in the Senate.

Without action, at the end of this year, transit riders will get only a $125 monthly pre-tax deduction for their daily commute, while drivers will get a fat $240 to park their cars. (As a reminder, you bicyclists get to deduct $20 if your employer can even figure out how to apply for that benefit.)

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