Congressional staff on the House Transportation and Infrastructure is making progress drafting legislative language of what could become the panel’s six-year surface transportation bill, said Chairman John Mica, R-Fla.
That sets up a schedule under which the committee could complete behind-the-scenes work later this month, and pass a bill around the end of May or in early June.
Mica told The Journal of Commerce that T&I staff had been preparing a draft since before Congress departed in mid-April for an Easter recess. Lawmakers returned to Washington and their committee work this week, and Mica said he was preparing to review staff progress on the transportation bill.
“They’ve got part of that complete, but not totally complete,” he said. “We’ll try to finalize it in the next couple of weeks, and then get it out and get people’s input. And then we’ll try to take it to committee as soon as we can.”
He said the timing to introduce a chairman’s version of the bill, known as a “chairman’s mark,” could be near the end of May. But the schedule for committee action would depend partly on his consultations with ranking Democrat Nick Rahall, W. Va., and others.
Rahall told the JOC he has not yet seen draft legislative language from Mica or the Republican staff, but will work with Mica from the chairman’s plan to help shape a committee bill.
Mica said that as he talks with Rahall and other committee members “if we can get some sort of agreement to move forward, I’d like it as soon as we can. If it’s the end of the month or beginning of June, either would be fine.”
Mica earlier had said he would try to get the broader transportation bill through the committee this month, to give plenty of time for the full House to pass a bill and to work with the Senate and the administration over the summer to enact a final version before the current transportation programs expire at the end of September.
However, Mica also said he is pushing to get a final bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration through Congress before its programs expire the end of May, and “that’s also occupying a lot of attention.”
Mica would not specify what the T&I transportation bill might contain, saying he needs to first review the staff work. He said it would include “a major expansion of TIFIA” – the popular low-interest infrastructure loan program run by the Federal Highway Administration that takes its name from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
“We’ll hopefully see some innovative ways of financing a six-year bill,” he said, and that “another major feature would be speeding up projects. We’ve heard the frustration with projects taking so long, dragged out, cost great sums of money. I think those would be the major features.” He also reiterated that he wants the bill to cover as many transportation modes as possible.
Mica said he has discussed rail infrastructure issues with Vice President Joseph Biden, a major advocate of passenger rail system development, but has not discussed financing options for the legislation with either Biden or Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.