Update on Transportation Reauthorization Bill

Posted on: June 21st, 2012 by NADO Admin

With only eight days remaining until the current (and ninth) extension of surface transportation programs (P.L. 112-102) expires on June 30, House and Senate leadership and conference committee negotiators have turned up the heat in hopes of agreeing on a final bill and avoiding another extension (or shutdown) of current programs.

Although change is occurring by the hour, there appear to be three potential scenarios.  To avoid a shutdown of highway funding, Congress would need to negotiate and pass a final bill, clear a short-term extension to buy conferees more time, or agree to House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) threat of a six-month extension that would postpone action on a bill until after the November elections.

Earlier this week, following growing concern that conferees would not reach an agreement before the current extension expires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Boehner met with Sen. Barbara Boxer, the transportation conference committee chairman, and Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the panel’s vice chairman, to try to jump start negotiations and re-confirm their commitment to completing a bill.  With no final decisions made at this particular meeting, they agreed to keep forging ahead with the conference.

According to various news reports of that meeting, Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid directed Chairman Boxer and Chairman Mica to resolve the outstanding transportation portions of the bill (including issues like environmental streamlining rules for road projects, project delivery, consolidating U.S. DOT programs, and enhancements), potentially leaving the other controversial provisions (Keystone XL pipeline, coal ash, RESTORE Act, and RAMP Act) to be negotiated at the leadership level.

Throughout the day on June 20, Mica and Boxer met behind closed doors with their senior staff in an attempt to advance negotiations. That same day, with a significant 386-34 vote, the House passed a procedural motion offered by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) that directed highway bill conferees to wrap up their work and report a bill no later than Friday, June 22.  The motion was “non binding” and demonstrated overwhelming support in the House for a final agreement to be reached. The vote tally can be found here. (http://clerk NULL.house NULL.gov/evs/2012/roll391 NULL.xml)

Today (June 21), reports emerged that an agreement has now been reached on how to resolve the major transportation policy differences on the highway title of the bill and staff have been instructed to finish drafting a bill incorporating the agreements as well as other minor issues remaining that were not elevated to the “member level.”  Adding weight to the positive rumors, Boxer and Mica issued a joint statement this afternoon:

“The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill.  Both House and Senate conferees will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week.”

As reported by Transportation Weekly, several cautions should be noted:

  1. Nothing is final yet.
  2. Even if there is an eventual agreement between the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conferees and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee conferees on the highway portion of the bill, it does not necessarily cover all other sections of the bill, including those under the jurisdiction of the Senate Banking Committee (transit), the Senate Commerce Committee (freight, safety, pipelines, and rail) or the Senate Finance Committee (how to pay for the bill).
  3. Even if all the transportation parts of the bill reach agreement, it does not cover the Keystone XL pipeline, coal ash, RESTORE Act and RAMP Act portions of the conference.

Stay tuned for more developments, but if an agreement is reached by tomorrow, Congressional leaders may bring a very short-term extension to the floor to avoid a shutdown and provide additional time for the highway portions of the measure to be written into legislative text and for further negotiation on outstanding issues.

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