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It’s a Deal: Conference Committee Reaches Tentative Agreement

UPDATED 12:55 PM PST

We're hearing that the Cardin-Cochran amendment to preserve local control has, indeed, been gutted and that states will be able to "opt out" of spending money on bicycle and pedestrian safety projects. This has been a Republican objective for a long time, and it looks like they've triumphed over the thousands of people and organizations that have demanded that the tiny sliver of funding for active transportation be maintained.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have succeeded in getting ideological GOP provisions on the Keystone XL pipeline and coal ash deregulation axed from the bill. It's not clear yet exactly what's been decided on environmental reviews, but you can read between the lines of this GOP aide's remark: "At the end of the day, Senate Democrats fought for red tape, while House Republicans fought for jobs – and got some important wins." Were those "wins" against red tape? (That's what the GOP calls community participation and careful environmental assessment of the biggest transportation projects.)

The bill detailed in this conference agreement expires September 2013, despite some calls for a longer-term bill, and we're expecting the funding levels to be what the Senate has always offered ($109 billion). We're waiting for the news on environmental protections, transit operations, and everything else they've been fighting over, as well as the final details of the bike/ped deal. When these details come to light, it will be more clear whether, in the end, this bill will be better than no bill at all.

The House has three days to read the bill before the vote, which at this point would have to be Saturday. We hear the Senate will be staying in session also, to vote on the conference report after the House does. The president technically has until Monday morning to sign it before the transportation program lapses.

Meanwhile, somewhat bizarrely, the House is set to vote in the next hour on FY2013 transportation appropriations, a bill that could be quickly rendered moot by this reauthorization bill. After that vote, they're going to the White House picnic. That should be a good time.

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