With the goal of passing a bill that allows the U.S. House of Representatives to move to a conference committee with the Senate on a multiyear surface transportation authorization measure, the House has passed a bill authorizing a further 90-day extension of SAFETEA-LU (H.R. 4348) through Sept. 30, according to an American Public Transportation Association Legislative Alert.
As House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) remarked on the floor during House debate, “Taking the other side at their word … passage of this extension of current law through the end of the fiscal year will allow us to go to conference with the other body.”
The 90-day clean extension of transit and highway programs preserves the existing Mass Transit Account (MTA) and the transit program’s dedicated funding from motor fuel receipts paid into the MTA.
The bill, brought to the House floor yesterday, also includes provisions approving the permit of the Keystone XL pipeline and a modified version of the Senate’s RESTORE Act (directing BP oil spill penalties to projects in the Gulf states).
The White House threatened this week to veto the surface transportation reauthorization bill if it contained a mandate to proceed with construction of the Keystone pipeline. “The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4348,” the White House said in an April 17 statement. President Barack Obama rejected a request in January for a permit to build the pipeline, but said the rejection was not based on the merits of the pipeline. The White House has invited TransCanada Corp. to reapply.
“Because this bill circumvents a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline before a new route has been submitted and assessed, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto this legislation,” the White House statement said. “The pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts, including impacts on health and safety, the economy, foreign policy, energy security, and the environment.”
Three amendments were made to H.R. 4348 by the House Rules Committee including one to incorporate the project and environmental streamlining provisions originally included in H.R. 7, the bill the T&I Committee reported out back in February. Amendments to guarantee spending of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund receipts as well as legislation shifting enforcement responsibilities for federal coal ash rules to the states were also considered. All three amendments considered were approved by the House and included in the final bill.
The amendment adding H.R. 7’s streamlining project provisions was made after some Republicans expressed concern that House conferees would be left in a weak negotiating position if they went to a conference committee with “shell” legislation that lacked any of the substantive policy provisions included in the House committee-passed bill. House Democrats had sought to consider an amendment on the House floor substituting the text of Senate-passed MAP-21 for the House bill, but that effort was not allowed under the Rule.
Citing the funding uncertainty and job loss resulting from a prolonged series of short-term extensions, T&I Ranking Member Rahall urged Chairman John Mica (R-FL) to join him in sending a letter to the Speaker urging expeditious appointment of conferees. Saying the message he hears from the American people is “Stop the bickering; stop the baloney; put people back to work,” Mica committed to act quickly to move the bill to conference.
From Marcia Hale, president, Building America’s Future:
“We applaud the House for voting in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that will serve as a means to opening the door to a House-Senate conference committee. We urge the swift appointment of conferees so that the important work on crafting a final bill is completed as quickly as possible. The final bill should incorporate greater accountability and transparency; streamline the process so that projects are built on time, within budget; and provide flexibility to leverage federal, state and local funding with investments from the private sector is completed as quickly as possible. The final bill should eliminate the Senate bill’s provisions that would make it more difficult for states to partner with the private sector. In order to remain economically competitive in the 21st Century, the United States must have a modern and efficient transportation system. Now is the time for a concerted bipartisan effort to put us on the path forward.”
From Scott Slesinger, legislative director, Natural Resources Defense Council:
“This appalling measure is the poster child for why Americans are fed up with Congress. With an opportunity at their fingertips to make tangible progress on our critical transportation needs, Republican leaders instead persisted in playing political games rather than providing real jobs and transportation improvements for the American people. As this bill moves to Conference, we urge the House members to drop their irrelevant and dangerous provisions and adopt the bipartisan Senate bill.”
From the AGC Highway Facts Bulletin:
“While AGC has consistently and unequivocally called for a long term transportation reauthorization bill with increased funding and significant program reforms, political realities have prevented that from happening. AGC supported the current strategy of passing H.R 4348 as a means to get to a conference with the Senate on S. 1813 to provide program continuity, certainty in funding levels for the next 15 months and program reforms.”
From U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:
“When the President first sold the stimulus as an infrastructure bill, he failed to address the red tape that delays the approval of transportation projects. ‘Shovel-ready’ became a national joke because it takes so long to get the bureaucratic approvals for a project. This bill includes important provisions to significantly reduce the red tape that leaves projects and jobs behind.”
From U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee:
“This legislation will allow programs to continue through the fiscal year and provide predictability during the summer construction season. The environmental streamlining provisions would also eliminate duplication by providing a single system to review decisions. It reduces bureaucratic delay by requiring concurrent, instead of consecutive, project reviews and setting deadlines for the completion of environmental reviews. These changes will cut the delivery process in half and save taxpayers a great deal of money.”
Progress on the fiscal-year-2013 appropriations process began in the Senate this week as Senate appropriators marked up the FY 2013 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill in subcommittee on Tuesday. In the absence of authorization legislation for FY 2013, the $53.4 billion spending bill sets funding for highway and transit programs at current levels. It appropriates $10.6 billion for transit programs, including $2.044 billion for New Starts.