Playing ‘chicken’ with transportation bill is bad policy
June 25, 2012
Youngstown (OH) Vindicator
Can anyone who has driven more than a mile from home be against passing a transportation bill that would invest about $110 billion over two years in the nation’s crumbling highways?
Can anyone think that it is imprudent to spend less than 2 percent of the annual federal outlay on repairing and replacing American highways and bridges?
Can anyone who complains about the unemployment rate oppose a bill that would not only improve the nation’s infrastructure, but create nearly 3 million jobs in the construction industry?
Keep your eyes on Washington this week, because we are about to find out.
In past years, the transportation budget was as close to a no-brainer as legislation gets. For one thing, much of the revenue comes from fuel taxes, not the general fund. For another, no congressman in days gone by would want to appear to be against better roads and good jobs.
But in the new and anything-but-improved Washington, ideology and partisanship have reached such heights that even road construction is no longer sacred.
And so it falls to Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid to find a way to reconcile the two versions of the transportation bill that have been passed by the House and Senate and put in conference committee.
Boehner and Reid, the Washington Post reported, have tasked their transportation committee chairman with effecting this compromise, but it’s Boehner and Reid that should be cracking the whip.
A House divided
And, frankly, more Boehner than Reid, because it’s the House version of the bill that is bogged down with extraneous amendments. Both parties have used important bills as pack mules on the theory that they can load up a vital bill with pet amendments because the other side will fold rather than see the bill fail.
But that’s a dangerous gamble when the bill is as vital to the nation as the transportation bill.
The Senate passed a relatively clean transportation bill with a degree of bipartisanship, given that 22 Republicans signed on. The House passed its version on a much more partisan vote. Republicans added such provisions as accelerating approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada and relaxing environmental regulations on coal ash.
Those are issues that should be argued on their own merits, not used in a game of chicken involving the construction industry, which is one of the key factors in helping the nation’s economic recovery.
Boehner and House Republicans should listen to road-builders, who have been running ads saying: “With billions of dollars at stake, and thousands of good paying jobs, it is time for Congress to take action. ... Will your congressman be part of the problem, or part of the transportation solution?”
Or to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has urged lawmakers to pass a comprehensive bill. Without one, wrote Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president, “the economic growth potential of infrastructure investment would be squandered and job losses would likely continue in the coming months and years.”
Authorization to spend money from the transportation trust fund expires Saturday. The 47-member House-Senate conference committee has only a few days to reach an agreement on a vitally important bill that should have never been allowed to languish this long.