The House on Thursday voted to continue surface transportation programs for an additional 90 days, punting to shortly before the Democratic and Republican conventions the question of what our longer-term transportation policy should look like.
Most House Democrats were hopping mad, and they should be. We are about to enter the spring construction season, unemployment in the construction industry was running 17 percent in February, and states have long lists of projects needed to address traffic choke points and rising demand for public transportation.
That is the reason for the urgency behind getting the House to act on the two-year transportation bill that the Senate passed earlier this month. If the House would have just voted for the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, states would at least have funding certainty for the next two years that would enable them to move forward on short- and some medium-term projects.
Lawmakers who want to rethink the shape of future transportation policy—and progressives as well as conservatives have ideas for significant changes in how we raise and spend transportation dollars—would under the Senate bill have the next two years to lay out their visions, win public support, and come up with legislation that can pass both houses of Congress and get signed into law.
Instead, as Rep. Rep. Peter DeFazio said on the House floor, “We’re going to lose half of the proposed projects this construction season around America, tens of thousands of jobs, needed investment, because [the Republicans] got a bunch of bozos in their caucus that don’t believe we should have a national transportation system.”
Make no mistake about it: the 90-day extension that the House passed is a major fail. Now the Democratic-led Senate must decide whether to swallow this devil’s sandwich or take the heat for allowing federal transportation funding to end at midnight Sunday, an act that would start a cascade of shut-down construction projects and layoffs. Democrats in these situations, unlike most House conservatives, can usually be relied on protect the hostage from being killed, so it’s reasonable to expect an extension by this weekend. But the question for the conservatives obstructing a bipartisan transportation bill still stands: Is the objective a sound transportation policy that could also address today’s jobs crisis, or is it, as Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said today on the House floor, to have “political cannon fodder for your agenda to defeat the Obama administration”?