By David Pendered
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a two-year federal transportation bill that protects transit and other surface transportation programs, and moves the funding debate to the House, where its future evidently is unclear.
The Senate bill has strong implications for the upcoming transportation sales tax referendum in Georgia. Federal transportation funding has been earmarked to help pay for projects that are on the project lists that voters will face on the July 31 ballot.
The Senate version is significantly different from a proposal in the House that has stalled amidst opposition. Among the critics of the House bill is MARTA’s board of directors, which voted last month to adopt a resolution opposing the bill on grounds that it would jeopardize MARTA’s ability to serve its customers, as well as all transit systems nationwide.
Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss voted in favor of the transportation bill, according to the U.S. Senate’s webpage. Neither senator had posted comments about the bill on their webpages by late Wedneday.
The House has stalled on an alternative proposal that was intended to dramatically reshape transportation funding. It was supposed to address the reality of declining revenues from the gas tax. The measure also was reported to include measures designed to promote domestic drilling for oil.
Many of the major news outlets were reporting late Wednesday afternoon that the House was likely to consider the Senate version after returning next week from recess. These accounts included observations that House Speaker John Boehner has decided the House version cannot be passed before federal funding for transportation projects expires March 31.
However, “Roll Call,” citing anonymous sources, said the prospects were less clear. Part of the issue is a desire among some lawmakers to resume the discussion over health care – now that the Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments on the case later this month. If that happens, debate on the transportation bill would be delayed.
Here’s a portion of the account of the possible delay as reported in “Roll Call.” Click here to see the entire story:
“According to one source, the need for an extension [of time to consider the Senate bill] is the byproduct of scheduling realities on the chamber floor. Some are mechanical — because the Senate’s bill includes revenue provisions, which are required to originate in the House under the Constitution, the House will have to ‘clone’ the bill. With the GOP’s three-day rule still in effect, the process of even bringing the bill to the floor could take four days or more, burning an entire week.
“Other problems, however, are more political in nature.
“The transportation bill butts up against the Republicans’ desire to pass a budget before the end of the month or lose one of their politically potent attacks on Senate Democrats. And while internal divisions are also threatening their ability to pass a budget, most Republicans seem convinced some agreement between conservatives and appropriators will be worked out.
“With the two-year anniversary of the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation next week — and oral arguments over the law scheduled for the following week in the Supreme Court — House Republicans also want to take the opportunity to resurrect the ugly fight over health care.
“As a result, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are expected to bring legislation repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a key part of the law that would set reductions to Medicare payments, to the floor. House Members are also expected to hold numerous events around the anniversary and oral arguments in the next two weeks.
“Still, outside groups are hoping to pressure the House to act on the highway bill sooner. The Laborers’ International Union of North America is running a radio ad in Boehner’s district, including cities of Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati.
“The ad makes the analogy that Congress’ failure to act forces Americans to play Russian roulette when they cross structurally deficient or obsolete bridges. ‘A fourth of the nation’s bridges are deficient or obsolete, and the average bridge is now 45 years old, dangerously close the average bridge lifespan of 50 years,’ the group said in a release Tuesday.”