Although a long-term, comprehensive surface transportation bill practically sailed through the U.S. Senate this week, prospects for similarly quick action by the U.S. House of Representatives either on the Senate bill or its own version of a highway bill have dimmed considerably from just over a week ago.
Back on March 7, FleetOwner reported that the office of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, (R-FL) stated that during a GOP conference, Mica’s transportation bill received the support of the House Republican leadership and so “will continue to be the focus of efforts to pass a major transportation and energy jobs initiative through the House.”
But today comes word that the House will likely not take up Mica’s highway bill—or the Senate’s legislation, either-- until after the two-week Easter Recess , which will put Members back on the Hill until April 16.
“The House won't take up a transportation bill until after the two-week Easter recess, transportation committee aides told a group of transportation officials yesterday,” stated a news report by Burgess Everett, Adam Snider and Kathryn A. Wolfe posted on Politico.com this morning.
What’s more, according to a Politico.com posting by Adam Snider, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee aides told industry officials this morning that its highway bill won’t reach the House floor before mid-April and that the House will not take up the Senate’s transportation bill. In his report, Snider noted that “Democrats on both sides of the Capitol are ramping up their pressure on the House after the Senate approved a two-year, $109 billion bill that garnered votes from nearly half of the Republican caucus.”
And as the political wrangling over a single highway bill truly gets under way, the components and amendments of the Senate bill as well as what makes up the current House bill that came out of Mica’s committee will come under increasing scrutiny by interested parties, including trucking and mass-transit lobbies.
Where the money to pay for the next highway bill will come from will be of course, front and center in the deliberations ahead. As pointed out by public-policy consultant Ken Orski in his transportation-related Innovation NewsBrief released today, “coming up with the money for the bill required some creative thinking.”
Orksi went on to relate that one Senate aide remarked that "The measure is popular with the Members because they see it as a jobs bill. That’s why so many of them were willing to hold their noses and vote for it, knowing full well that the bill uses budget gimmicks to cover up the [$12 billion] shortfall." He noted, that Sen Bob Corker (R-TN) put it more diplomatically: "The highway bill is so popular that members on both sides of the aisle are willing to kick the can down the road ... But passing a bill that spends money over 18 months and tries to recoup it over a 10 year period is a road to insolvency."
According to Orski, the math in all this ain’t pretty. “The contortions that the Senate Finance Committee had to go through to come up with a mere $12 billion in offsets to cover the funding gap presages an even more difficult challenge in the years ahead,” he stated. “By October 2013, when the 18-month bill (if approved by both Houses) will have reached its end, new offsets will be even harder to find—especially for a multi-year bill.
“What we may be faced with, one House staffer speculated, is a permanent condition of serial short-term (one- or two-year) reauthorization bills each of which would require only modest amounts in offsets or transfers from the General Fund,” he continued. “If a greater degree of funding certainty were desired, entirely new methods of raising multi-year sums of transportation revenue would need to be devised. For now, there is widespread agreement that Congress is dealing merely with a band-aid solution.”
Stay tuned to see just what shape band-aid will ultimately be used. And how much it will cost and be paid for.