Capitol clowns come in all shapes and sizes

Both parties are to blame for the silliness that continues to pour out of the House regarding a new highway bill

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Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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During heated House deliberations last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) called the Republican party a bunch of "bozos" for the way they have handled highway funding over the past year or so. It certainly has been a circus on Capitol Hill, but let's remember that the original Bozo had a sidekick, Cookie.

 

Both parties are to blame for enticing the road and bridge industry—on several occasions—in what appeared to be an end to this political standoff, but they continue to just pull out handkerchief after handkerchief of broken promises. The latest sideshow act resulted in a 90-day extension of SAFETEA-LU despite the Senate coming up with a bipartisan agreement over a two-year, $109 billion measure. House Dems said a three-month layover would force those at the state, city and county level to scratch up to 50% of the jobs that were slated to move forward this construction season.

 

Let's face it, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has not been a very good ring leader during the past six months. They attempted to pass a five-year, $260 billion bill that contained no earmarks, but over 6,000 amendments. Some of the revisions were met with harsh criticism, and the bill never had legs to stand on. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried mightly to give it a crutch, but the handicap was just too severe.

 

Democrats came down hard on House T&I Committee Chair John Mica (R-Fla.) during the debate of the 90-day extension, but Mica did have a strong defense, and repeated it often. The Democrats, he said, could have passed a long-term bill on six different occasions and instead went with extensions. The Democrats had control of the entire Congress, but failed to work up the right bill and chose to focus on universal healthcare, which was then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) obsession.

 

However, now is the time to be adults about it. Children point fingers and blame each other, but those with a mature backbone accept responsibility, wipe the slate clean and take action regardless of who is calling the shots. There are few in Congress right now who can stand erect with pride.

 

Congress is now on recess, which means they will not touch the possibility of a new multiyear highway bill until early May. The current extension expires on June 30, and the hope in the House is they will get enough in order to finally deliver that five-year bill. However, the rework that is necessary is far too great. So there will be another extension, and then the campaign for the November elections hits high gear. Here I am repeating myself again at a time I thought, once and for all, the House and Senate would come together and at the very least pass a two-year highway bill. I predicted a compromise a few weeks ago, but I am not coming out looking like a clown here. A fool is more like it.

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