The clock is ticking on the next highway bill, which is scheduled to become law by Sept. 30.
If a bill hasn’t been sent to the White House and signed by President Obama by that time, Congress will be forced to pass an extension of the current funding law or risk putting hundreds of billions in transportation funds needed by states in jeopardy.
With a draft bill still being finished by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and no bill ready in the Senate, experienced Capitol Hill hands are betting on an extension.
“To believe that this entire Congress is going to finish a bill by Sept. 30 when there isn’t even a bill in the House is truly a triumph of hope over experience,” former U.S. senator Slade Gorton, a Republican from Washington, said at a June 9 press conference.
Gorton is co-chair of the National Transportation Policy Project, which released its recommendations for a sweeping shift in federal transportation policy June 9 (see story here). “Will Sept. 30 come without a reauthorization? I’ll ask you,” fellow co-chair Martin Sabo, a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota, told reporters.
“We’ve got very difficult decisions to make, but change is abroad in this town,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the NTPP already held meetings with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that “were very productive.”
“Senator Boxer is very focused on climate change right now,” he said. “I can’t give you an estimated time of when we’re going to see a highway bill.”
Oberstar has said he opposes extending the 2005 law. Congress extended the previous highway bill 12 times.
Warner, co-founder of the NTPP, a project of the Bipartisan Policy Group, sits on two of the three Senate committees that will oversee the reauthorization. The fact that so many committees have authority over highway spending slows its progress, he said.
“It’s remarkable that in the 21st century we still take transportation policy and, at least on the Senate side, divvy it up and expect to come out with an aligned transportation policy,” he said. “We need to think outside our silos … and we’ve still got a long way to go at the federal level.”
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Contact William B. Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org.