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Transportation Bill Update

Transportation Bill Update

There have been some fairly significant developments, but very little actual action, over the past two weeks regarding the long-delayed highway bill. Since our last update (see 2/10/12 update below), both the House and Senate bills have stalled out.

On the Senate side, leaders were preparing to bring the full surface transportation bill to the floor, through a series of amendments. However, as the highway bill is one of a very few items likely to move through the body this year, Senators began offering controversial ‘non-germane’ amendments, making it very difficult to move the bill forward (it should be noted that this is fairly standard for Senate business and is not a reflection on the bill itself).

Senate leadership has spent this week’s recess working, in a bipartisan manner, with their colleagues to identify which amendments will be offered and considered on the Senate floor. If they can reach agreement on all the relevant matters, the bill could see floor time as early as next week. However, as we move deeper into the calendar year, other items begin to take up Senate business time, and it’s possible the transportation bill could be put on hold, temporarily, for the Senate to consider other issues.

Meanwhile, things are even more complicated on the House side. The House began moving forward with their energy/transportation package two weeks ago, only to discover mounting opposition from all sides to various provisions in the bill. Nearly 300 amendments were filed to the transportation portion alone.

Democrats expressed frustration with the entire package and the process for developing it, saying they had been excluded.  Both Democrats and moderate Republicans opposed the changes to transit funding while expressing concern that the bill does not spend enough. With likely unanimous Democrat opposition to the bill, Republicans needed nearly every Member of their party in order to move the bill.  However, fiscal conservatives opposed the bill because, among other issues, it spends too much.

As a result, House leaders were forced to postpone consideration of the transportation provisions until after this week’s recess, in hopes they could reach a compromise and secure the necessary votes. Late yesterday, reports began to surface that such a compromise had not been reached. Those rumors were confirmed when Speaker Boehner’s office announced that the transportation bill would remain on hold, as Republican leaders attempt to gather the necessary votes. Leadership has also indicated that they are now considering major changes to the bill, in order to make it more palatable, including reducing the duration (which reduces the total cost of the bill) and removing the controversial transit provisions. As of this afternoon, work is still being done behind the scenes to determine a path forward.

The House and Senate have until March 31st to pass their own bills, conference the two versions and vote again in each body on the final conference report. If they’re not able to move the bills forward very soon, Congress will be forced to turn their attention to passing an extension to buy more time. The inevitable disagreements over length and substance of the extension will take some time as well.

Administration’s FY 2013 Budget Request

Last week, the Administration released its budget request for FY 2013. This year’s budget was very similar to last years. Given that both the House and Senate are in the midst of considering long-term surface transportation legislation, the Administration’s proposal is largely considered ‘dead on arrival’.