House Republican negotiators yesterday presented their version of a compromise over the investment level for a multiyear highway and transit bill. The proposal, presented by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), would provide $284 billion in guaranteed funding and total federal surface transportation program authorizations of $299 billion. The offer would provide $4.6 billion more in guaranteed funding and $15 billion more in total authorizations than the measure passed by the House in April.
The offer is still far below the investment levels Senate negotiators have said would be acceptable. The House proposal only offered an overall investment "number," and would leave policy and structural issues to be negotiated later.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) characterized the proposal as a "good faith offer." Both Thomas and Young said the Bush administration could support the level of investment in their proposal. Thomas added, however, that "you can do a lot of things under this number; what we cannot do is try to figure out ways to raise it or re-open the bill at a later date and[/or] violate the president¹s principles."
The Bush administration has previously recommended "flat-line" funding for the highway and transit programs for the next six years, totaling $256 billion, and threatened to veto the House- and Senate-passed TEA-21 reauthorization measures over funding issues.
While conferees said they appreciated the House response to past Senate proposals, the House offer was greeted with mixed reviews. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said donor state relief was not achievable at the funding level the House Republicans proposed. Inhofe also said he had polled Republican and Democratic Senate conferees and "a vote on the Senate side [on the proposal] held today would fail."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Democrat Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) offered, "the best that can be said about the proposal is that it is movement."
With the current federal highway and transit program extension expiring July 31 and Congress preparing to recess at the end of this week until September, members of the House and Senate yesterday worked diligently to develop a fifth extension of the programs. While it is unclear what duration the final extension will be, past reports have indicated it would last through September 30.