Lawmakers Cross Party Lines on Transpo Funding as Debate Rages

An 18-month extension of existing transportation law cleared the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, but not before
spirited debate on a proposal billed as a compromise with House members
who remain strongly opposed to the Senate’s stopgap.

Sen_Barbara_Boxer_D_CA_1.jpgBarbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of theSenate environment committee (Photo: Politics Now)

The "clean" re-upping of the 2005 transport law, stripped of the few reforms
the Obama administration had proposed, passed with one dissenting vote:
Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who lost a bid — on his birthday — to
cut the extension down to 12 months.

"Everyone realizes the current law is inadequate to get the job done," said Voinovich, who has aligned with Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and his House transportation committee to fight the White House and Senate on the extension.

"We have a Senate and we have a House … what I’m proposing here is something very reasonable."

Voinovich’s
compromise won support from three Democrats, including Senate Finance
Committee Chairman Max Baucus (MN), whose panel has the tricky task of
approving $20 billion in spending cuts or offsets to keep the nation’s
highway trust fund flush until after the 2010 midterm elections.

But
the 12-month proposal fell on an 8-11 vote, with environment committee
chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offering Voinovich a contrite birthday
consolation and a promise to tackle a "transformational" transportation
bill — once the thorny question of revenue is sorted out.

"There
is way less of a chance that, if we go 18 months, we’ll have to do
another extension," Boxer said. Though "I respect, like, love"
Oberstar, the chairman added, "in order to meet his six-year bill,
you’d have to double the gas tax."

Boxer has said she is
open to indexing the gas tax, which has gone untouched by Washington
since 1993, to inflation. Any increases, however, face an uphill battle
winning over re-election-minded lawmakers.

The
18-month extension must be merged with corresponding legislation from
the Senate Commerce and Banking Committees before heading to the
Finance panel for its revenue portion to be completed.

Yet
the bill appears set to founder in the House, given Oberstar’s fierce
opposition, leaving Congress without a clear path on transportation
policy and only three weeks to go to meet the U.S. DOT’s deadline for
bailing out the highway trust fund.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Boxer: Forget Transportation Bill, Work with Me on Something Else

|
"Defender of the Environment" Boxer doesn’t want reforms or debate over gas tax increases to hold up transportation bill; but does favor an eighteen month delay. Photo: SteveRhodes/Flickr Green transportation advocates are pressing Congress to refuse any new spending that’s not tied to reform of the existing system — a call that influential senators in […]

Road and Transit Groups Join Boxer to Push for Senate Jobs Bill

|
Representatives from Washington’s road and transit lobbies joined Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today to call for swift passage of job-creation legislation that is slated for a vote in the upper chamber of Congress on Monday. Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: AP) Faced with the prospects of a GOP filibuster, […]

Senate Starts Work on New Transport Bill, With House Version as a Guide

|
The Senate today took its first steps towards voting on a new long-term federal transportation bill, with environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) vowing to take up a successor to the 2005 infrastructure law before 2011 and indicating she would use the House’s already-introduced version as a framework. Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), […]

House Voting Today on Transport Law Extension — What’s Next?

|
The House is slated to vote this afternoon on a three-month extension of the 2005 federal infrastructure law, as proposed yesterday by transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN). A full copy of the bill, expected to pass easily, is available here. But the bigger question of what happens next, with just three legislative days left […]