How about putting transportation back in the transportation bill?
Well, well, well, what a surprise. Our diligent U.S. House and Senate failed to agree on a transportation bill by the April 1 deadline, opting for yet another — as in ninth — extension of the 2005 bill.
The extension, or Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, buys them another 90 days to come up with something they can agree upon. (The Federal Aviation Administration had 22 extensions before Congress finally approved a multi-year bill this year.)
The House passed its version of the transportation bill in February. The Senate passed its version in March. But ne’er the two could meet.
What’s the problem? I made the mistake of finding and reading the full text of both bills, with a combined count of more than 2,500 pages. Both bills have catchy descriptive names that definitely capture their respective themes.
The House bill, The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, authorizes spending about $260 billion over five years. The Senate bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 Act (don’t you just love those cute little acronyms?), would spend about $109 billion over two years.
As expected, both bills give some ink to the concrete, steel and labor our transportation infrastructure needs, and both are committed to something called Intelligent Transportation Systems. So there are points of agreement between the two. Except that most of the pages are filled with so much other “stuff” that I had to remind myself constantly that they were transportation bills.
I can’t tell what this has to do with transportation infrastructure repair, but both bills address the driving-while-intoxicated problem through the use of ignition interlock systems, which are little Breathalyzer machines connected to cars that prevent the car from starting if the driver has been drinking.
The House bill wants the program expanded to all states for first-time offenders. The Senate wants them as standard equipment on all cars.
More than 10,000 lives are lost each year to drunk drivers in our nation. If we lost that many innocent civilians by terrorist attacks, we’d mobilize our entire military. (The American Beverage Institute is lobbying hard against both proposals, by the way.)
Except for the alcohol parts, most of the potential conflict between the two bills can be found in all that other “stuff.”
The House’s American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act appears on the surface as industry-friendly and expeditious in getting those road, bridge and rail construction jobs moving right away — but not so much when you dig into the details.
This bill grants more authority to the states over local community needs and concerns when it comes to roads, energy development impacts, and railroads, including environmental assessment waivers for certain rights-of-way. Living in western Colorado, we know that federal money to our state doesn’t always flow to the Western Slope.
The House bill has a couple of companion bills under its transportation umbrella, including the Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act or PIONEERS Act (another adorable acronym) sponsored by Colorado’s own Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. We are darned lucky to have that guy on our side. If it’s in the ground and has value, you can bet Lamborn is working hard to legislate it right on out of there.
The Senate’s MAP-21 Act is all about studies, research and development. If it is even remotely related to transportation, the Senate legislation has a research study planned for it. There will be jobs galore for researchers. Data-driven, that bunch is.
As with the House’s bill, there was odd stuff in the Senate’s. See, for instance, “Sec. 40305. 100 percent continuous levy on payments to Medicare providers and suppliers.” What?
And in later pages, a section titled, “Special measures for jurisdictions, financial institutions, or international transactions that are of primary money laundering concern or significantly impede United States tax enforcement,” including denial of passport issuance for people who owe back taxes. What does that have to do with transportation?
Because I needed some seasoned insight into this problem, I called former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and asked if he knew why the House and Senate don’t just pass the transportation infrastructure parts that they can agree on, then deal with all that other “stuff” separately.
“Because they couldn’t get most of that extra ‘stuff,’ as you call it, passed any other way,” he said. “You can’t cut and spend your way out; you have to have a blend. Transportation bills are always difficult. There’s a lot of money for their states tied to those bills, and they’re all trying to screw each other to get it. Now they want to blame (President) Obama, blame (House Speaker) Boehner, when they need to blame themselves and get back to working on how they can do what’s best for the American people.”
Thanks Alan, I could’ve saved myself 2,500 pages of reading. Want to take any bets on whether they’ll pass a 10th extension on the old bill come July 1?