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Highway Reauthorization Measures Face Uncertain Paths
Encourage your lawmakers to support long-term transportation investments
[Editors Notes: As AEDNews was being released, the situation in both the House and Senate on surface transportation was extremely fluid. The content herein reflects the most accurate information at the time it was written. For the latest updates, follow us on Twitter: @aedgovaffairs.]
After years of delay, the highway bill is front and center on Capitol Hill. As AEDNews is being emailed today, surface transportation reauthorization is on the floor in both the House and Senate. However, the legislative process in both chambers are presenting challenges for rapid action, slowing movement on the bills.
AED is urging every member to contact lawmakers in Washington to build support for the House and Senate bills. (Click here to go to AEDaction.org) Neither version is perfect, but both bills must pass in order for the legislation to be resolved in a joint conference committee.
Senate process delays highway bill
On Feb. 7, the Senate Finance Committee identified funds to cover the approximate $12 billion shortfall between expected revenues from the Highway Trust Fund and current spending levels in the upper chamber’s bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) (S. 1813).
This led to the Senate’s overwhelming approval, 85-11, to bring MAP 21 to the Senate floor for consideration, seemingly putting the legislation on a path toward passage. (To find out how your senators voted, click here.) As debate on the bill began, however, GOP senators are trying to use the surface transportation measure as a vehicle to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, to prevent foreign aid from going to Egypt, and to reverse the administration’s controversial rule regarding contraception; additions that could shatter the bipartisan comity that has marked the Senate’s measure thus far.
Despite Environment & Public Works (EPW) Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) working together to discourage the submission of nongermane amendments, senators continued to introduce many unrelated proposals. These extraneous amendments bogged down the Senate’s efforts, leading Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to file a motion to end debate.
As expected, that motion failed to pass the Senate on Feb. 17, allowing the Senate to restart consideration of the legislation when it returns after the President’s Day recess. Word on the Hill is that Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are working together to develop a list of acceptable amendments to clear a path forward for the bill.
As Senate leaders regroup to strategize on how to best to advance MAP-21 it is critical that distributors across the country reach out to their lawmakers and remind them how critical this legislation is to America’s future.
Senators add PAB provision to MAP-21
In approving the finance provisions of S. 1813, the Senate Finance Committee also passed, by voice vote, an amendment from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that would to lift the cap on private activity bonds (PABs) for drinking water and wastewater projects.
One of AED’s top priorities, the measure could generate $5 billion in private capital investment annually with a minimal hit to the federal treasury.
White House takes a stand
On Feb. 9, MAP-21, received official support from the White House. In a policy statement, President Obama called for support of the Senate bill to “provide much needed certainty and funding for the nation’s transportation programs.”
The president’s support, however, was not welcome news. EPW Ranking Member Sen. Inhofe released a statement worrying that the administration’s support could undermine the bipartisan unity that has marked the Senate bill by politicizing the issue.
Meanwhile, the House transportation bill drew Obama’s first veto threat of 2012. In a statement of administration policy, the president expressed strong opposition to the House measure, saying that the bill jeopardizes safety, weakens environmental protections, and fails to make adequate investments.
Bipartisan concerns become speed bumps for House action
Unlike the bipartisan process in the Senate, the House highway bill (the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 7)) has devolved into both a partisan brawl between the GOP and Democrats and an intra-party fight among Republicans.
Further complicating the House bill is that more than 240 amendments have been offered to the legislation, which is expected to spark hours of contentious debate as Democrats and Republicans attempt to modify the bill more to their liking. Some of those amendments will be ruled out of order by the Rules Committee before going to the floor; however, House leadership is still anticipating close to 200 amendments being considering by the chamber.
In hopes to ease passage of the legislation, House leadership decided to break the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act into separate legislative proposals. On Feb. 16, the House approved the energy portion of the highway bill, which contains provisions to expand domestic oil and gas production and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. H.R. 7 will be considered the week of Feb. 27.
The House highway bill faces a difficult path. Many in the GOP caucus are wary of the legislation’s price tag and several prominent conservative groups have come out in opposition to the bill. House Democrats are in near unanimous opposition to H.R. 7, opposing the process by which Transportation & Infrastructure Chair John Mica (R-FL) has moved the legislation forward and objecting to several of the bill’s provisions. Notable Democratic dissent exists on many provisions, including Keystone approval, off shore drilling expansion, and removing mass transit and transportation enhancement funding from the HTF (the latter also proving divisive among Republicans).
These challenges have put a question mark on the House’s ability to pass H.R. 7 when it comes down to a final vote. Now is the time for equipment leaders to weigh-in with their lawmakers to press their support for H.R. 7. It’s not perfect, but we need to keep the process moving forward.
As Insights went to press, the most updated information on H.R. 7 was available through the House Rules Committee.
AED advocacy efforts at full-steam
With all the activity on Capitol Hill, AED has been busy working to build support for the federal highway bill. While AED does not believe either the House or Senate bill are perfect for our nation’s transportation networks, the association is working to ensure that each chamber passes its bill so that a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee can work out a final bill that provides multiyear certainty for the federal highway program.
AED worked closely with local distributors to send letters to Sens. Hutchinson(R-TX), Cornyn (R-TX), Johnson (R-WI), and Toomey (R-PA) to encourage their support for MAP-21. The association also coordinated letters to Houseand Senate leaders urging support for each chamber’s respective transportation bills.
The association has been working closely with its allies in Washington as well, participating in and helping to coordinate multi-industry efforts to secure approval of a long-term highway bill. On Feb. 8, AED joined the Americans for Transportation Mobility(ATM) on a letter calling for Senate approval of MAP-21. ATM has also launched an ad campaign calling on lawmakers to Make Transportation Job #1.
With approval expected to come down to the wire, AED members should reach out to lawmakers and stress the importance of passing the House and Senate highway bills so that the chambers can resolve differences in a conference committee.
It’s vital that your lawmakers hear from equipment industry leaders. Visit AEDAction.org to send a note encouraging support!
Article Date: 2012-02-19
Source: Associated Equipment Distributors
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