What, You Thought Congress Would Actually Pass a Transportation Bill?

The enthusiasm among some lawmakers to finish a multi-year federal transportation bill seems to have fizzled over the long August recess. House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster is already talking about another extension.

Photo: ##https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Capitol_South.jpg##Wikimedia##
Photo: ##https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Capitol_South.jpg##Wikimedia##

In July, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell teamed up with Senator Barbara Boxer to craft a three-year transportation bill that bore more than a passing resemblance to the current law, MAP-21. The House wanted more time and they promised to work on a long-term bill after August recess. McConnell accepted a three-month extension to let them do it.

But guess what? The August recess is over and hey, Congress is just really busy right now. There’s the threat of a government shutdown. There’s the Iran deal to fight about. There’s a whole slew of tax provisions to pass before they expire. There’s a debt ceiling to raise. There’s even another transportation authorization that expires first — this one for the Federal Aviation Administration. And then in the middle of it all: The Pope.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation has essentially told Congress not to sweat it because the Highway Trust Fund isn’t going to go bankrupt nearly as soon as expected. The supposed five-month extension passed in July is actually going to cover transportation expenses for 11 months. The slow pace of construction in winter means that the $8 billion Congress authorized will stretch till next June. Congress would still need to reauthorize the program soon, but it wouldn’t need to do the hard part: finding more cash to keep it running.

Boxer recently told an audience at the Public Policy Institute that she predicted (“with some trepidation”) Congress would pass a bill that lasts at least three years. Meanwhile, she has finally let go of her previous rejection of using a gas tax hike to fund a long-term bill. “We haven’t raised the gas tax since Clinton,” she said. “You could do a penny a month for ten months: You wouldn’t feel it and you would solve your problem.”

Her forecast was put to the test by Shuster yesterday, who first said that he expects another short-term surface transportation extension and then, just hours later, told Politico the House is hard at work on its own long-term bill and might even be ready to introduce it next week.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Congress Set to Pass Yet Another Short-Term Transpo Funding Patch

|
The 35th transportation extension in the last six years is about to pass. The House had passed a five-month extension, the Senate insisted on moving forward with its six-year bill, then the House proposed a three-month extension, and somehow that sounded great to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. To win McConnell’s support for the short-term […]

It’s Time to Stop Pretending That Roads Pay for Themselves

|
If nothing else, the current round of federal transportation legislating should end the myth that highways are a uniquely self-sufficient form of infrastructure paid for by “user fees,” a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls. With all the general tax revenue that goes toward roads in America, car infrastructure has benefited from hefty subsidies for many years. […]

Don’t Look Now, But the House Amtrak Bill Actually Has Some Good Ideas

|
Tomorrow, the House Transportation Committee will consider a bill that changes the nation’s policies on passenger rail. The proposal, while it includes some cuts, is a departure from the senseless vendetta many House Republicans have waged against Amtrak in the past. The National Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, says the plan contains “commonsense regulatory and […]