House GOP Throwing Transportation Bill Tantrum


The Senate passed MAP-21 last week by a whopping 74-22 margin. This week several Congressmen introduced it as a House bill, and so far almost one-quarter of that chamber have jumped on a co-sponsors of the bill. President Obama and Transportation Secretary LaHood are calling for the House to pass the bill, signaling that the President could sign it into law and provide some stability to the transportation program until the end of next year. With the economy still struggling, including a beleaguered construction industry, now is not the time to vacillate. Now is the time to act, and you can tell your Member of Congress to do just that by clicking here.

And yet vacillating is exactly what House Republican Leaders are doing. After cooking up the worst transportation bill ever, then breaking it up into three bad bills, and then announcing that the whole thing will be rewritten, the contrast with the Senate couldn’t be starker. The Senate has meanwhile modeled an effective legislative process. Four committees wrote the requisite pieces of the Senate bill, with members crossing the aisle to work with their colleagues to get the bill done.

Now the House has a chance to step into the arena as well, and they shouldn’t settle for yet another extension of current law (the previous law, the earmark-riddled SAFETEA-LU, expired way back in September of 2009). As Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama puts it, that’s “just kicking the can down the road. I thought we had a good two-year highway bill.” What’s happening instead? They talk trash, calling the Senate bill a “crap sandwich” and insisting they just need three more months to get their own bill done.

Photo of Minnesota bridge collapse by Kevin Rofidal, United States Coast Guard. A new bill would deliver investments to repair other deficient bridges littered across America.

I’m fed up, and wonder if others are too. As a parent, I’ve seen this kind of behavior before. The difference is that I expect it from my four-year-old. I expect better from our elected representatives, who work for we the people.

I’m not saying the Senate bill is perfect. The provisions cutting environmental reviews are problematic. The provisions that require something that should be the norm in an era when we can’t afford to waste taxpayer money, namely performance objectives and measurement should be beefed up. Scenario-planning, at least for big regions where a disproportionately large portion of the nation’s traffic is generated, should be mandatory not optional (we have the technology and techniques to make it work, as many regions have demonstrated, so what’s the holdup?). And a bill that makes investment for more than the next years would be an improvement, especially with indexing of the gas tax to inflation as Senator Enzi proposes.

Overall, though, it’s a step forward for the transportation program. It consolidates programs, It increases accountability for spending, it delivers more funding to local jurisdictions rather than distant state bureaucracies, it prioritizes fixing highways and roads we’ve built to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance, it includes a requirement that streets be “complete” so they accommodate those of us who walk and bike and it extends the transit benefit for consumers.

This balanced, bi-partisan bill would deliver economic security and benefits nationwide. It lays the foundation for further reforms that improve the program’s performance, which Congress can take up when it expires. It funds transportation choices for suburbanites such as yours truly, so we can take a train, bus or walk instead of another painful trip to the gas station.

America needs the Senate bill. The House needs to stop acting childish and pass it. Congress needs to hear from their constituents. Please take action now to send them the message: Take up the balanced, bipartisan Senate bill, and do it now.