Friday, April 20, 2012

New House Highway Extension – Band Aid Or Vehicle?

With a month and a half left on the last temporary extension of Highway Trust Fund legislation, the House passed another three month extension measure Wednesday, April 18, assuring funding for ongoing projects at least through September 30. What prompted Congressmen, who have traditionally waited until just a day or two before highway funding expires to pass these band aid measures, to push this bill through a month and a half before it is needed?

There is a double barreled answer to that question. First, Republicans in the House inserted a mandate for construction of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands crude oil pipeline into the measure, directly challenging President Obama’s threat to veto any such legislation before state and federal permit processes have been completed. In other words, they are calling the President’s bluff. Second, and a more hopeful note, is that with another five or six weeks remaining for conference committee negotiations, the bill might be a vehicle for some compromise, longer term Highway Trust Fund measure to emerge from conference committee negotiations respecting the Senate’s already passed two year, $109 billion bill.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, who serves as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said this following the 293-127 vote on the three month House transportation extension: “The fact that the House voted to take a step forward on a surface transportation bill is encouraging – as long as they follow through and immediately appoint conferees so that Congress can complete its work and get a bill to the President’s desk.” Maybe – just maybe – our elected officials are now ready to set aside partisan campaign year bickering just long enough to actually take some positive action towards fixing out crumbling infrastructure and putting construction tradespeople across the nation back to work.

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