As the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill to extend the existing highway program for 18 months July 15, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to convince lawmakers they need to get the job done sooner.
Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said that Congress should pass a six-year transportation bill quickly, calling the need for such a bill was urgent, because it would provide for construction and repair of transportation infrastructure that’s critical to keeping the U.S. businesses competitive.
The only six-year bill introduced so far is the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 crafted by the leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The bill’s sponsors, Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn, and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., ranking Republican on the transportation committee, are defying the Obama administration and the Senate by pushing for the new bill by the time the existing highway program expires on Sept. 30.
While the chamber officially does not support or oppose the STAA, there is more in the bill that the organization likes than dislikes. Donohue said the bill isn’t strong enough in its support for public-private partnerships, and he also opposes its ‘build America’ language.
“So we'll be all over that, but Oberstar and his colleagues are on the right track, and that is let's get going, let's get a bill, let's not play these games of delay and dodge and fix,” Donohue said. “We need to get on with this,” because any delay will make the cost of the bill rise further.
About 100 members of the U.S. Chamber hit Capitol Hill to lobby Congress on the bill. The chamber also is launching an advertising campaign in targeted markets to bring home the issue of transportation infrastructure.
“I think the leadership is going to come from the House," said Steve Odland, chairman and CEO of Office Depot, a $14.5 billion supplier of office products and services.
"Oberstar and Mica are experts. They’ve been studying it a very long time. They have the plan in place and I think the Senate would be wise to listen to the House,” said Odland.
Donohue noted that the Senate was “up to its eyes and elbows” with other issues, including healthcare and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
“If you look at our timing, we’re going to have a lot of this going on while everybody’s home over the August recess,” Donohue said. “We’re going to do all the things we traditionally do. The real question is what do you think we’re going to get done? I think this is a tough reach in the Senate.”
“We’re going to do the best we can,” Donohue said. “It’s important to do it now, because whatever happens, it will happen sooner than it would have if we didn’t do it.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.