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House Republicans still can't get a
transportation bill approved
For a brief moment it appeared that the passage of the two-year Senate transportation bill on a bipartisan vote Wednesday would finally spur the House to take action itself. If nothing else, it would put aside its own contentious five-year bill and take action on the Senate bill instead to meet the April 1 deadline. But nothing—not common-sense, not the Senate bill, not the deadline—has pushed enough representatives to agree.

Consequently, according to staffers, there will be no House vote on a new bill this month. Instead, the House will extend current spending for the ninth time since the 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009. No obstacles have appeared so far to an extension:

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) hasn’t decided how long the stopgap should be and aides predicted it wouldn’t have any problems passing the chamber, even though it would extend both programs and the current 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.
After another two-week vacation that begins March 30, the House will return to, presumably, take up where it left off on the transportation bill. About the only good thing that can be said about that five-year, $260 billion House proposal is that it hasn't passed. Because it stinks. It's 21 percent less than the 2005 bill when adjusted for inflation, and that's just the beginning of its many problems. It would weaken environmental reviews of road and other transportation projects, open up protected lands on- and off-shore to oil and gas production and use the royalty revenue for road and bridge building (even though that revenue would be a long time coming and seriously inadequate) and end dedicated funding for pedestrian and bike friendly projects, among other things.

The problem for Republicans is that Speaker John Boehner can't corral enough of them to support a bill that they think it isn't yet destructive enough. They want to spend even less money.

The Senate bill is imperfect, to be sure. But the worst of more than two dozen amendments—including authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to exploration and production of oil and gas, as well as undermining Clean Air Act regulation of mercury emissions—were eliminated. And a good one passed: spending most of the penalties paid by BP for its Gulf of Mexico blow-out on remediation in Gulf. The bill also extends the commuter benefit for mass transit riders and funds makes bike and pedestrian projects.

For now, however, a truly far-sighted transportation bill is just a pipedream:

Meanwhile, our major modes of transportation poison us, burn two-thirds of the oil we drill at home and import from abroad, make us less secure because of the geopolitics involved in maintaining access to much of that oil, gobble up a scarce resource essential for making other products, extract large hunks of household income and contribute a third of the CO2 we’re loading into the atmosphere.

Rethinking transportation means rethinking zoning and other aspects of how we build our cities and develop the land in between. It demands a hard look at subsidies that promote particular modes of transportation to the exclusion of others and broadening the definition of what a subsidy is. Rethinking transportation requires rethinking the currently inadequate public revenue streams that pay for most of its infrastructure. And, obviously, it means extricating ourselves from dependence on fossil fuel, not just the imported stuff but what we take out of the ground within our own borders and from beneath the continental shelves.

Someday, perhaps, Congress will wise up.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Fri Mar 16, 2012 at 07:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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