Stop­gap mea­sure sus­tains tran­sit pro­grams

Congress to re­visit trans­porta­tion bill

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

Af­ter fail­ing to agree on a long-range plan to keep fed­eral high­way and tran­sit pro­grams run­ning, Congress on Thurs­day re­turned to one of its most tried-and-true tac­tics of the past year: It kicked the mat­ter down the road by pass­ing a stop­gap fund­ing mea­sure.

The move averts a shut­down of fed­er­ally funded trans­porta­tion projects, which was set to hap­pen Sun­day.

The Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled House strug­gled for weeks to write a mul­ti­year trans­porta­tion bill, and twice ear­lier this week failed to clear short-term deals. Fac­ing the week­end fund­ing dead­line, Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can, fi­nally was able to get a 90-day fund­ing ex­ten­sion through the cham­ber Thurs­day by a vote of 266-158.

The Demo­crat-run Se­nate bowed to pres­sure from the House and agreed to the stop­gap mea­sure by a voice vote, but not be­fore Democrats lashed out at House Re­pub­li­can lead­ers for re­fus­ing to bring up the Se­nate’s two-year, $109 bil­lion trans­porta­tion bill, which passed ear­lier this month with broad bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

“Kick­ing the can down the road for an­other 90 days is not good pol­icy,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee. “While I am re­lieved that we’ve been able to avoid let­ting our job-crit­i­cal and sur­face trans­porta­tion safety pro­grams lapse, I’m frus­trated that the House has been un­able to act on the Se­nate’s bi­par­ti­san two-year reau­tho­riza­tion.”

The White House on Thurs­day took the House to task for not pass­ing a long- term trans­porta­tion bill but stopped short of say­ing the pres­i­dent would veto the 90-day ex­ten­sion.

While the Se­nate trans­porta­tion bill sailed through the up­per cham­ber and passed by a vote of 74-22, Mr. Boehner’s Re­pub­li­can col­leagues re­jected his pro­posed five-year, $260 bil­lion ver­sion even be­fore he could bring it to the floor for a vote. Some Repub­li­cans said the mea­sure was too big and ex­pen­sive. Oth­ers com­plained it cut too much from fa­vored projects in their dis­tricts.

The speaker then sug­gested he would ac­cept the Se­nate’s bill. While the mea­sure was sup­ported by Democrats and some mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans, he later backed off amid op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tives in his ranks.

Do­ing noth­ing would sus­pend the fed­eral High­way Trust Fund be­gin­ning Sun­day, mean­ing that trans­porta­tion projects na­tion­wide would screech to a halt. Such a move would ad­versely af­fect an es­ti­mated 1.8 mil­lion con­struc­tion-re­lated jobs. The gov­ern­ment could also lose about $110 mil­lion a day in un­col­lected gas and diesel taxes.

But Mr. Boehner said he had con­cerns with the Se­nate bill, say­ing it in­cluded “gim­micks” and that it would have drained the trust fund.

House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man John L. Mica, Florida Re­pub­li­can, who crafted the House’s failed long-term plan, said the ex­ten­sion will give him time to work on an­other long-term pro­posal.

“We’ll con­verse with the speaker and we’re go­ing to try our best to get as long a term [deal] as we can and get it up as soon as we can and get to con­fer­ence [with the Se­nate] as soon as we can,” Mr. Mica said.

When the Se­nate re-ad­dresses the trans­porta­tion fund­ing is­sue again is un­clear. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, on Thurs­day said the cham­ber’s first sig­nif­i­cant item of busi­ness when the cham­ber re­turns April 16 from a two-week break will be to take up the pro­posed “Buf­fett rule” tax, which calls for peo­ple earn­ing at least $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally pay at least 30 per­cent of their in­come in taxes.

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