Saturday, June 23, 2012

Highway Legislation Hoopla Mutes The Really Bad News

A flurry of activity late last week surrounding the conference committee negotiations over terms of a much needed two year reauthorization of the federal Highway Trust Fund is masking the reality that even if the Senate’s $109 billion version of the appropriations measure passes and gets signed into law, infrastructure construction in this nation will be woefully underfunded in the remainder of this decade. June 19 in Speaker Boehner’s office, Boehner met with Majority Leader Reid, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer, and Ranking Member James Inhofe, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica at what can only be characterized as a pep rally to get something more than a six month band aid extension through Congress before the current temporary legislation expires June 30. Following that meeting, Boxer and Mica told the press that Boehner and Reid directed “stepped up efforts” to reach a deal before the month end deadline.

Wednesday, June 20, the House voted 386 to 34 to instruct its conferees to produce a compromise bill within two days. Thursday, June 21, Boehner and Reid held separate press conferences to announce that conference committee negotiations were “moving along.” Reid’s comments were cautiously optimistic: “Now, I can’t guarantee anyone here we’re going to get a highway bill. But, we’re certainly in much better shape than we were 24 hours ago. There’s significant progress being made. We hope that we can get this over the finish line.” Boehner’s remarks were equally reserved: “House Republicans want to get a highway bill done, and our colleagues are working toward producing a bill.” Then he followed up that mild endorsement of progress with announcement that House Republicans still want fast track provisions for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline in a final measure – provisions which President Obama has already promised to veto.

All this hype, including a joint statement from Boxer and Mica that “The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement,” only serves to conceal the sad facts about the legislation they are working on. Any two year bill coming out of this process will provide infrastructure funding of only $50 billion a year, while the Obama Administration meekly asked early in this Congressional session for about $80 billion annually, and the nation’s needs for simply maintaining our current transportation infrastructure require a minimum of $100 billion every year. Real modernization and expansion of transportation facilities, and the concomitant reinvigoration of the nation’s construction economy, would mean appropriation of $200 billion each and every year for the rest of the decade.

So, while our leaders in Congress are busy trumpeting their paltry progress toward a woefully inadequate and truncated longer term Highway Trust Fund reauthorization measure, what they are really doing is using smoke and mirrors to defer any real action on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs until after the November elections.

Shame, shame on them all!
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