Highway Bill Vote Delayed By GOP, Transportation Aid Up In Air

Highway Bill Delayed

As Congress debates a major overhaul of the nation’s transportation policy, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, cancelled a vote on a three-month extension bill that would have kept federal transportation aid going to the states.

Caution Slow CongressThe three-month extension bill would have sparked a confrontation between the the political parties that the GOP leadership wasn’t sure they would win. The original GOP plan was to bring the extension bill to the floor under rules that require two-thirds of the House to vote for it in order to pass it. That meant that the Republican bill would have needed 50 Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. However, the Democratic leadership put pressure on their members to vote against the GOP bill in order to force a House vote on recently passed $109 billion Senate transportation bill.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said, “The most responsible path forward at this point would be to drop the political brinkmanship and pass the bipartisan Senate transportation bill that the president could sign before these critical job-creating programs expire Saturday night.”

However, even without the Democratic opposition, it wasn’t clear that three-month highway bill would have passed under simply majority voting rules.

Boehner had earlier presented this bill as an integral part of the Republican’s jobs creation plan, making its cancellation an embarrassment for the Speaker. The GOP wanted to use the extension bill as a way to gain more time as it worked to find enough votes to pass a more comprehensive, five-year transportation overhaul bill. This major transportation bill is receiving criticism from both the left and the right.

Tea party conservatives have criticized the major transportation bill because its costs to pay for the transportation programs weren’t fully funded through fuel taxes and other user fees. Some Democrats have criticized it for undercutting environmental protections and penalizing union workers. These Democrats also dislike that part of the bill’s funding would come from increases in offshore oil drilling.

If Congress doesn’t act on transportation funding quickly, the government’s power to levy federal fuel taxes and allocate funds for transportation programs expires March 31, 2012. Should this happen, Democrats forecast that close to two million construction-related jobs expected as part of the upcoming spring and summer construction seasons would be at risk. It’s also estimated that the federal government would lose as much as $110 million in uncollected diesel and gas taxes every day.

GOP leadership still hopes to bring three-month extension bill up for a vote. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner said, “We are in the midst of bipartisan conversations about a short-term extension of the highway bill. To facilitate those conversations, the House vote on an extension will occur later this week rather than tonight.”

The earliest the House could vote on the extension bill would be March 28, 2012, which wouldn’t give the Senate much time to respond. Even so, some moderate Republicans have urged Boehner to support the Senate bill instead.

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