For many years, certain committees in Congress looked at transportation as bipartisan. Projects and funding were approved because they create jobs, and it’s been a written and unwritten rule that the highway system is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.
We’re not quite sure when things started to go sour or when transportation projects and infrastructure jobs became political pawns in a war on spending.
But all is not lost. At least one committee is still feeling the love.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a two-year, $85 billion transportation authorization bill on Nov. 9. It’s the first multiyear transportation bill to emerge since SAFETEA-LU became the law of the land in 2005.
Members of the committee basked openly after completing bipartisan negotiations on the bill. Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and ranking member James Inhofe, R-OK, had many kind words to say, as did Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee leaders Max Baucus, D-MT, and David Vitter, R-LA. Their joint press release had quotes from each of the four under their respective letterheads.
Other Senate committees are entrusted with adding things to the bill in the near future including a financial title and motor carrier safety provisions. We’re all waiting to see how those pan out.
While transportation itself has not been dragged through partisan rhetoric in the Senate, things like spending levels and government regulation still have the ability to split the partisan divide wider than the Grand Canyon.
That type of rift is already widening in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers are split down party lines on many issues that will make up their version of the transportation bill.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee used to be a transportation love fest. Well, mostly anyway. But it’s just not that way in today’s climate.
The line in the sand got even more pronounced during House lawmaker press conferences held Thursday, Nov. 17.
Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, and T&I Committee Chairman John Mica, R-FL, laid out a plan to roll domestic energy production – namely gas and oil drilling – into their version of a multiyear transportation bill. They say it’s about time for the U.S. to get off its behind, end the drilling moratorium, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Proceeds from oil and gas drilling, they said, will help pay for transportation infrastructure.
They made another declaration, too – that the bill will pass by the end of the year.
In a counter announcement of their own, House Democrats blasted the concept, saying the plan falls short on details but long on expectations. Press releases that accompanied the events demonstrated that political partisanship is alive and well in the House.
It may not be transportation itself that is drawing the partisan bickering. It’s more likely other things such as paying for the bill and a little thing called a presidential election that’s on next year’s calendar.
Because the House works differently than the Senate in terms of jurisdiction over transportation, it could be that the Senate EPW Committee escaped from having to have certain discussions while the House is forced to have them.
It’s too early to take sides. We simply haven’t seen the full text of the House bill. We’ve only seen the outlines.
OOIDA leadership says the oil and gas drilling idea is interesting, and is not something Association members would view as a deal breaker. Many members would support an idea like that if it could work. What OOIDA does question, however, is whether a proposal like that could work and garner enough votes.
Senate Democrats say the oil and gas proposal is a non-starter for them. So that’s another partisan argument to be sorted out as this thing moves along.
If you’re into the political process, and can see past a lot of the partisan rhetoric, the transportation debate is an interesting one to follow, and something we’re looking forward to covering.