National Transportation Program: Death By Extension?


It's simply inexcusable. Senators from both sides of the aisle worked hard to pass a two-year transportation bill, MAP-21. The President supports it. And in the House, it would very likely pass by a wide margin with Republican and Democratic support.

But that assumes House GOP leadership wants to renew the nation's commitment to a transportation program. The shenanigans and chicanery on the bill over the past few months, as I've written about in this blog numerous times, provides little evidence that the House is interested in anything but playing politics with transportation.


This week alone the House proposed a 90-day extension. Then a 60-day extension. And then, just a few hours ago, they reverted to a 90-day extension and passed it on a mostly partisan basis. Streetsblog covered it live and has the brief blow-by-blow here. They also covered subsequent passage of the bill in the Senate, sending it to the President's desk and avoiding the doomsday scenario of a transportation program shutdown.

The best question to ask at this point: WHY does the House need another 12 weeks to deliberate when there's a solid, bipartisan bill on the table? Current law expires in a little more than two days (check out the doomsday clock from Senate Democrats); why not take the Senate bill, pass it, so the President can sign it and private contractors and their families, states and federal agencies can all breathe a sigh of relief?

Extensions, after all, are not cost-free. In contrast to the Senate's two-year bill, they reduce certainty that's important for planners and engineers across the country. Job losses from this move would be real, according to one estimate as much as 100,000.

How can they get away with this destructive move? First, I think they assume no one is paying attention. Other stuff is in the headlines right now.

Second, their previous, failed attempts at legislation indicate that this may well be a purposeful ploy to undermine the transportation program. You'll note my list of those who take a hit without enactment of the Senate bill: Those who build highways and transit projects, who are mostly middle-class; strapped state governments; and federal agencies. That last seems to be the sole consideration of the House GOP leadership. Republican Transportation Chairman Mica of the House made a floor statement earlier this week saying that Republican Transportation Secretary LaHood's assessment that this is the worst bill he's seen in 35 years of public service is true but only for bureaucrats like him. House GOP leaders seem obsessed with attacking the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and other agencies. Additional harms to states and families across the country who rely on the construction industry, not to mention those of us who commute and use the transportation system daily, seem irrelevant.

Having failed to pass the worst transportation bill ever, it's possible the House has settled on a new strategy: To kill the program by extending it, and then extending it again, and then again...

This is no way to run a railroad. We need to keep the pressure on the House. Tell them to take up the Senate bill without further delay.