If there’s one thing they love to agree on these days on Capitol Hill, it is to not agree. The partisan rancor whose drumbeat of “just say no” has been steadily increasing—at least since Bill Clinton was in the White House– has now reached such a crescendo of negativity in the House that the prospect for passing a long-term fix for our nation’s surface transportation woes seems quite dim.
And that sorry state of affairs exists despite the positive example set on March 14 by the often polarized Senate. Enough senators from both sides of the political aisle recognized the importance of passing a long-term highway bill and did so with an impressively bipartisan tally of 74-22.
The Senate bill is a two-year measure that would provide $109 billion for highway construction, maintenance and repair.
News of the Senate bill passing was warmly greeted by trucking’s largest lobby, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA). “The highway bill passed by the Senate is an example of how things should work in Washington,” ATA president & CEO Bill Graves said at the time. “This bill advances the cause of highway safety and takes a number of important steps toward reforming our transportation system, two accomplishments that the committee chairmen and ranking members—Senators Boxer, Inhofe, Baucus, Hatch, Rockefeller and Hutchison—are to be commended for.” Also applauding the Senate action was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA). “We are grateful for the hard work and progress made toward finalizing a highway reauthorization,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “While not perfect, the passing of this bill represents an important step forward in reforming our surface transportation programs back to where they belong, which is to focus on maintaining and improving our roads and bridges.”
Meanwhile, over in the House, efforts to bring forth for a vote the ambitious five-year, $260 billion surface transportation bill crafted by Rep. John Mica’s (R-FL) Transportation and Infrastructure Committee stalled the same week the Senate legislation passed.
That despite what had been reported online by FleetOwner.com just the week before: The office of Rep. Mica stated that during a GOP House conference, the committee’s bill had received the support of the House Republican leadership and so “will continue to be the focus of efforts to pass a major transportation and energy jobs initiative through the House.”
More recently, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has said he wants his chamber to vote on the Senate measure, but at press time it was far from certain whether he will be able to corral enough votes of his fractious GOP majority to pass it or the Mica legislation.
The current highway funding authority was set to expire March 31, after this issue went to press. The last long-term funding legislation ran out in 2009 and has been extended eight times since. If no agreement is reached between the Senate and the House on a long-term measure by March 31, Congress will need to approve a ninth short-term extension.
And that seems to be what will happen, given that the House will likely not take up Mica’s highway bill—or the Senate’s legislation, either—until after the two-week Easter recess, which won’t put members back on the Hill until April 16.
So, if you want to see action taken or better yet, sped up, now is the time to contact your Representatives in the House and urge them to take up either the Senate or the House measure—or both—and get a long-term highway bill passed for the good of trucking and the entire nation.
David Cullen is Fleet Owner’ s excutive editor. He can be reached at dcullen@ fleetowner.com