Not on track yet
After a rowdy debate Thursday morning, House Republicans dodged a Saturday deadline by passing a 90-day extension on transportation spending Thursday. The vote was 266 to 158, with most of the opposition coming from Democrats. It is the ninth extension since the 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009. If it had not done so, hundreds of transportation projects—including highway repair and mass transit—plus the jobs that go with them would have been brought to a halt.
The extension now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily. Then it's back to the drawing board for another three months of wrangling enough votes to pass a real bill.
Republicans and Democrats have been battling over transportation spending for months, but it has been the internal fight among Republicans that has kept a five-year, $260-billion bill from gaining enough traction to clear the House. In the view of many Democrats, mass transit advocates and environmentalists, the bill is a disaster. Among other things, it would provide 21 percent less inflation-adjusted spending than the 2005 bill, slash environmental oversight and attempt to pay for some projects out of revenue from public land newly opened to oil and gas drilling.
But stubborn opposition has also come from within the Republican caucus from members who say the bill doesn't cut spending far enough. Earlier in the week, the leadership could not corral enough House votes for either a 90-day or 60-day extension. But those required a two-thirds majority, unobtainable because Democrats opposed the extension. Today's vote required only a simple majority.
The Senate has already passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill with the support of 22 Republicans. Democrats want the House to vote on that bill since Republicans can't agree on their own.
“The speaker has said many times that the House ought [to] be allowed to work its will,” [House Democratic Whip Steny]Hoyer, the Maryland congressman, said. “We would hope that the Republicans would put on the floor the Senate bill and let it be voted up or down, and I think it would pass. It has very substantial bipartisan agreement in the United States Senate. I don’t know why that shouldn’t be reflected over here.”
Three GOP representatives, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Judy Biggert and Robert Dold of Illinois, have signed a letter by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and two other Democrats urging House leaders to take up the Senate bill.
Despite the flaws in the Senate bill, it's 50 times better than what House Republicans have proposed. Which is a key reason they don't want to discuss it.
UPDATE: The Senate has approved the extension on a voice vote. It now heads to out for President Obama's signature. While he will sign, the attitude about the House's move drew a bit of a catcall from that quarter:
“While it is critical that we not put American jobs and safety at risk and hurt our economic recovery by allowing funding to run out, it is not enough for us to continue to patch together our nation’s infrastructure future with short-term band-aids,” spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. “States and cities need certainty to plan ahead and America’s construction workers deserve the peace of mind that they won’t have to worry about their jobs every few months.”