The TNT of tinkering

Adjustments to House transportation bill creates an explosion of criticism

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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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There is a new way of doing business in Washington, at least according to the Speaker of the House. Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference, John Boehner (R-Ohio) admitted he was not certain that the five-year, $260 billion House transportation bill would make it out of his chamber alive. The reason? Well, Boehner said it was because there was not a single earmark (SAFETEA-LU contained a killer 6,300). So what does Boehner do to entice his constituents to vote? He packages the multiyear highway bill with a measure that would override President Barack Obama's objection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

 

This is supposed to be a cleaner way of doing things on Capitol Hill, and Boehner would not have it any other way. "We sacrificed a tool of power [earmarks] that have been around for decades. It's what we said we'd do, and it's the right thing to do," he said.

 

I'm all for the politicians in Washington actually following through on a promise, but I am not sure Boehner's strategy is going to have much of an impact. Let's break it down. Because the House transportation bill is connected to future oil drilling I am certain a flurry of Democrats will vote against it. Boehner is hoping the Keystone measure will generate enough Republican support of the bill. To me, that speaks volumes. The passage of a multiyear highway bill should be a relatively easy thing to do. It will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and will address one of the major problems in this country--a crumbling infrastructure. Those two points alone should move it through, but Boehner felt he needed to add a little more polish, and what he is creating is a nasty stain. Because the bill is now tied to the Keystone pipeline, you probably will not have a single Democrat voting for it.

 

But the tinkering did not stop with Boehner. When the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted on the highway bill over a week ago, several amendments were made, including one that eliminated the Mass Transit Fund in favor of a Alternative Transportation Account, which means mass transit will basically lose its dedicated funding. You just lost the approval of a few Republicans.

 

I would like to see how a multiyear transportation bill, with the Mass Transit Fund intact, would do all on its own. I am certain it would have a better chance of passing the House than this Frankenstein they have created. So we are back to having little progress in Congress--and this is a new way of doing business?

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