The Obama administration and House transportation leaders both grabbed for the wheel of the surface transportation bill yesterday.
Rep. James L. Oberstar put the pedal to the metal while Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood slammed on the brakes.
As the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman rushed to introduce a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill, LaHood called for an 18-month “authorization” that amounts to an extension of the current bill, passed in 2005.
It’s a battle for control of national transportation policy in which a Democratic congressman confronts a Democrat in the White House.
So far, Oberstar, 74, a Minnesota Democrat and long-time advocate of transportation reform, shows no inclination to back down and turn the policy keys over to the youngsters who want to call the shots from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Oberstar, who was the ranking member of the minority on the T&I committee the last time a highway bill was passed, wants to reshape the Department of Transportation and set a new multimodal course for transportation policy.
The White House may share that goal, but it sees no reason to rush difficult decisions to meet a Sept. 30 reauthorization deadline. Especially, it opposes any effort to raise the federal fuel tax “in this recessionary period,” as LaHood said yesterday.
The House T&I leadership hasn’t taken a gas tax hike off the table.
The White House has its own transportation policy goals. Look to the extraordinary linkup between DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development this week for clues.
Can they learn to share the wheel? Perhaps, but in policy, as in any vehicle, you can only have one driver at a time.
Should we press ahead with Oberstar and try to pass a highway bill by the Sept. 30 deadline, or take the slower approach favored by the White House? Is there another route that could get us around legislative congestion?
We'd love to hear what you think. Leave your comments below.