I often disagree – to put it mildly – with the Chamber of Commerce over policy, especially regulatory policy. However, transportation has been a different story. We have seen eye-to-eye on the need for more investment, and the Chamber to its credit refers to the transportation bill as the “highway and transit” bill, which is closer to the truth – and better for the environment – than the usual moniker adopted by reporters (“highway bill”).
NRDC even signed a letter (pdf here), and so did our broad coalition Transportation for America, that the Chamber sent to Congress last month, saying in part that
To grow, the United States must invest. There are few federal efforts that rival the potential of critical transportation infrastructure investments for sustaining and creating jobs and economic activity over the short term.
And then the House Leadership hijacked the transportation bill for political purposes. Since then, as you know if you’ve read my blog, I have urged defeat of the wrongheaded House transportation bill (including most recently on salon.com).
The Chamber, however, has decided that there’s no such thing as a bad bill. Despite the fact that they signed onto a letter opposing a fundamental provision in the bill (pdf here) – tossing the mass transit account under the bus – they are burning up hundreds of thousands of dollars on flashy TV and radio ads, and their staff are barnstorming the country as I write, pushing for support of final passage of a transportation bill.
A relatively new member of Chamber staff was pretty blunt about the only priority the Chamber seems to have with the bill: “We’re concerned with getting a House bill to conference that maintains current spending levels.”
First of all, this is an especially good time to take note of the name of the Chamber’s transportation program: Americans for Transportation Mobility or ATM. I’ve always thought that acronym summed up their bottom line pretty succinctly. It’s all about taking our money, nothing more. Doesn’t matter how it's spent, or what strings are attached. Just give us the money, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer (that’s right, the ATM here is you and me).
Second, "conference," for those outside the D.C. bubble, is an insider process for reconciling bills passed by the House and Senate. Schoolhouse Rock failed to explain this step, which involves a new committee reconciling bills behind closed doors.
BUT -- the House bill is not reconcilable with the Senate bill. They are fundamentally and exceedingly at odds. They have different time spans, VERY different revenue sources, and VERY different investment and policy provisions, for starters. I summed each up on this blog, Senate here and House here.
The only way to get this bill done is for the House to deep-six its transportation bill and start from scratch on a good bill. It’s time to kill the worst transportation bill ever.