Lawmakers are running out of time to reach a deal on highway and transit funding. The current short-term measure expires at the end of the month and CQ (sub. req’d) reports another extension is likely:
While conferees say they continue to negotiate, progress has been slow and hopes for finishing a conference report on the bill (HR 4348) and getting it through both chambers before the end of the month are fading.
The catch is that House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will insist on a six-month extension, punting the issue until after the election if conferees cannot finish their work on time. Another short-term extension would require Boehner to relent on that threat if conferees appeared to be moving close to an agreement.
House and Senate conferees remain at odds even over core transportation issues, including easing environmental and regulatory reviews of transportation projects and relaxing requirements that states spend a portion of federal highway aid on enhancements such as highway beautification, bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways.
In February, we wrote about local transportation officials across the country lamenting the stalled highway bill and the prospects for yet another short-term extension. For local officials, constantly looking to Washington to know how much transportation money they will receive is not only exhausting, but highly impractical. Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, points out:
“‘We need to put people back to work,’ Malloy said. ‘[States] are required to plan ahead. We need a federal surface transportation bill with a time horizon of more than one or three or six months.’”
Governor Malloy has it partially right; states need certainty. They are not only required to plan ahead, they are also required to budget, and when they’re forced to rely on Congress to provide part of their budget, planning ahead becomes impossible.
On Friday, the House voted on a motion to instruct conferees that would have ensured Congress did not spend more on the highway bill than what comes into the federal Highway Trust Fund. This would have prevented a bailout from the general fund, reduced spending and lowered the deficit. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) absurdly asked the amendment sponsor, “Why do you hate the country so much?” The key vote is listed below, along with a breakdown of how Republicans and Democrats voted.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to lawmakers urging swift and definitive action on “America’s impending fiscal cliff.” Given the dire economic predictions of the “largest tax increase in American history,” the Chamber’s plea is likely to resonate with lawmakers, especially when combined with President Clinton’s latest gaffe.
But the Chamber understandably wants more than tax certainty:
Action cannot stop with the tax system. We urge you to develop a long term plan to address America’s excessive spending, particularly entitlement spending. Such a plan should substantially and quickly reduce the current deficit, stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio and put it on a downward trajectory within five years, and approach a balanced budget within 10 years.
Noticeably thin on details, the letter simply urged lawmakers to go about “prioritizing spending cuts.”
Less than an hour later, lawmakers and their staffs learned that highway and transit programs are apparently off the table when it comes to such prioritization. In yet another letter, the Chamber urged lawmakers not to “slash funding for highways, transit and safety programs.”
Our press mentions this week were focused on a few key areas: the farm bill and the highway bill.
The Hill: Club for Growth and Heritage Action have played central roles in mobilizing conservatives in recent months, exerting particular influence with the large Tea Party caucus.
1450 WHTC: The conservative Club for Growth and Heritage Action say they’ll push Tea Party fiscal hawks to defeat the Senate Farm Bill over new commodity spending and not enough food stamp cuts. The groups expect to key vote the Senate bill – punishing members on the groups’ annual scorecards for voting for the bill.