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Don’t Hold Your Breath for a White House Transportation Bill

8:32 AM PDT on May 13, 2011

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters today that the administration sent its draft bill to Capitol Hill two weeks ago. “It’s with the people that it needs to be with,” LaHood said, “the staff that’s working on a bill.”

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So while we reporters have been busy poring over draft bills that, it later turns out, don’t accurately reflect the administration’s plans for the transportation reauthorization, the final bill has already been out there?

Not exactly. Committee staffers say they’ve received “technical assistance” from the White House but not a final bill. “Technical assistance” is Congressional jargon for getting a sneak peek at relevant sections of the president’s draft of the bill. But it looks like the White House is only releasing it like that – piece by piece, as needed, and only to Congressional staff.

Even that technical assistance was slow in coming, said one staffer. The leaked versions that were floating around probably helped convince the White House to be more forthcoming with their guidance, just so staffers could have an accurate idea of what the administration has in mind.

It’s unusual for Obama to publicly release his own draft of a piece of legislation – he generally leaves that to Congress. LaHood clearly seems to think that the people who need the bill have it, and I take that as a sign that we won’t be seeing any more from the White House.

Meanwhile, the action alerts we’ve seen today advocating for a big push for bike/ped funding shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that the EPW Committee in the Senate is getting close to finalizing its language. According to inside sources, committee staff seems to be getting done with their draft, but that’s just at the staff level. Apparently that conversation has barely begun at the level of the senators themselves, and the staffers in their offices haven’t seen the committee draft yet. So it looks like there’s still a ways to go before we see a final bill.

Both the House and the Senate have recently stepped back from earlier talk of finalizing a bill by Memorial Day and are now shooting for “sometime in June.”

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