House leader Boehner is open to six-month transportation bill extension, says report
June 08, 2012
When it comes to passing a new transportation bill, politics are still taking center stage.
With progress on a new federal transportation bill at an ongoing standstill, House Speaker John Boehner said in a Reuters report yesterday that should negotiations on a new bill between the House and Senate fail to yield meaningful progress by June 30, when the most recent extension expires, the next step may be a six-month extension.
“Frankly, I think if we get to June 30, there would be a six-month extension and move this thing out of the political realm that it appears to be in at the moment,” Boehner said in the report.
In late March, Congress passed a three-month extension of the previous transportation bill—SAFETEA-LU—which expired in September 2009. That marked the ninth extension of the bill at current funding levels.
While Congressional inactivity remains intact and hindering progress on a new bill, the main funding mechanism for the Highway Trust Fund, the gasoline tax, has not been raised since 1993, yet politicians continue to state that Americans cannot take on another tax increase at the moment.
The federal tax on fuel—23.4 cents for diesel, 18.4 cents for gasoline—has been unchanged since 1993. Because of inflation, the federal fuel tax does not provide enough funding into the Highway Trust Fund, which repeatedly has had to have an injection of funds from the general treasury the past few years in order to remain solvent.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate EPW Committee, blasted Boehner’s six-month suggestion.
“I am very disappointed that Speaker Boehner is even talking about a long-term transportation extension, which would lead to the Highway Trust Fund going bankrupt, when all of our efforts must be focused on passing a transportation bill by the June 30th deadline,” Boxer said in a statement. “Three million jobs and thousands of businesses are at stake.”
Earlier this year, the Senate EPW Committee passed a two-year, $109 billion bill entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, while the House’s efforts stalled out. Both parties have been in conference for the last four weeks to hash out their differences to come up with a bipartisan bill, but progress appears to be minimal to date.
MAP-21 is comprised of various freight- and supply chain-related components, including:
-a National Freight Network Program that provides formula funds to states for projects to improve the movement of freight on highways, including freight intermodal connectors; and
-a Transportation Mobility Program that replaces the current Surface Transportation Program but retains the same structure, goals, and flexibility to allow states and metropolitan areas to invest in projects fitting their needs and priorities, as well as provide a broad eligibility of surface transportation projects that can be constructed, among other components.
Aside from differences in opinion over funding amount and the length of the bill, House Republicans are adamant on including the passing of the TransCanada Corporation’s $7 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline in any future legislation.
Many transportation stakeholders are calling for the House to consider the Senate’s MAP-21 or pass companion legislation so that federal funding for transportation programs is not eliminated when the current continuing resolution of the previous bill, SAFETEA-LU, expires at the end of June.
“The Senate bill has plenty of good things in it but there is also a lot to be desired,” said John Cutler, general counsel for the National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council (NASSTRAC), at the NASSTRAC Logistics Conference and Expo last month. “But it is also the only game in town when it comes to a bill.”
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