Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Lame-Duck Transportation Bargaining Scenario Fades

On Thursday night the Senate passed by a vote of 81-13 the House bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until next spring. Score it as a win for beleaguered House Republican leaders who were coping with a fiasco after they couldn’t find the votes to pass their version of an emergency spending bill to respond to the southern border crisis.

Senate transportation policy leaders – Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Finance Committee – didn’t get their wish: a short-term revenue measure that would have carried the Trust Fund to mid-December.

Democrats hoped that would set the stage for lame-duck bargaining over a longer-term (six-year) transportation authorization bill.

We’ll never know if that lame-duck bargaining scenario would have resulted in enactment of a bill.

With senators only an hour or so away from leaving town for five weeks, Wyden admitted Thursday night that the House bill was “not the Senate’s first choice” and Boxer added that it was “so unfortunate that we had to walk away from the work we did” in her committee when it passed its own bipartisan six-year transportation authorization bill last May.

Now all eyes — at least those watching this legislation closely — shift to the November elections.

Democrats and state and local transportation officials face the possibility of both the House and Senate controlled by the Republicans in 2015 which would likely mean a different set of transportation priorities.

One small example: fiscally conservative Republicans do not want to spend federal transportation dollars on bike paths as current policy does.

There was a sense of letdown Thursday night in the statements from local officials and from transportation interest groups, who remain searching for an elusive “certainty” from Congress when it comes to infrastructure funding.

Hennepin County, Minn., commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who is the transportation committee chairman for the National Association of Counties, and a proponent of light rail and bicycling transport options, said, “Temporary fixes are not enough. Counties are doing everything we can, and we urge our partners on the Hill to stop kicking the can down the road.”

Peter Ruane, the president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said he saw ”no reason for anyone to celebrate what amounts to a last-minute first-down pass.”

He urged Congress to devise “a long-term, sustainable revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund before the end of this year.”

Once Congress got that revenue solution under its belt, it could then turn to the details of policy in a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill before the May 2015 deadline.

“There is no reason why a funding solution needs to wait for a reauthorization bill,” Ruane said.

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