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Highway Conference Committee Stalls, Suffers Bipartisan Breakdown
After several weeks of bipartisan optimism surrounding the highway conference committee, negotiations took a sharply negative turn last week and partisan bickering flared as members acknowledged the very real likelihood of another extension. With a tenth extension of federal surface transportation programs seen as increasingly likely, much of the breakdown may be attributed to political posturing as the parties prepare to play the blame game.
Despite a flurry of nonpublic back and forth proposals among negotiators over the past two weeks, no major ground was broken and the parties seemed stuck at square one. The lack of progress led to a sharp uptick in partisan rhetoric with Senate and House Republican conferees only able to agree that the other was responsible for the breakdown.
At a June 13 rally with AED and other construction industry allies, Sen. Boxer called for the highway bill’s completion by the June 30 deadline. AED member Alban CAT of Baltimore provided construction equipment that served as the backdrop for the rally. Alban CAT also participated in a construction equipment convoy that drove around the Capitol building blaring horns and draped in banners calling for a highway bill.
While billed as a bipartisan event, several Democratic senators took a highly partisan tone calling on “extremist” House Republicans to pass the Senate bill. Yet Boxer remained optimistic at a press conference after the rally. In her remarks to the press, Boxer said that in her opinion 80 percent of the bill was done, with only the big contentious issues remaining. She also expressed the willingness of Senate Democrats to negotiate on the House’s priorities, including the Keystone XL pipeline. Boxer pinned the chances of a successful conference report on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), saying that if he were to pressure recalcitrant House members to support a conference agreement, a final agreement would be within reach in a matter of days.
Following the conference, House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) released a statement criticizing the Senate for unwillingness to compromise on streamlining and other projects. However, Mica stated that the House would not allow federal transportation programs to expire.
The seeming inability of conferees to agree on anything has led many on Capitol Hill to begin questioning whether a tenth short-term extension will become necessary, and if so, what it will look like.
Despite the ominous possibility of another continuation of the authority of SAFETEA-LU, the nation’s last long-term transportation bill, AED remains hopeful that lawmakers can put partisanship aside and accomplish a bill.
While the association continues to build pressure here in Washington, it is absolutely critical that lawmakers hear from you about the critical need to pass the highway bill today. Even if you have done so in the past, be sure to visit www.AEDAction.org to send a letter to your lawmakers urging their support for a transportation bill before June 30. To have an even greater impact, call your lawmaker via the capital switchboard at 202-225-1904 and say that the time for politics is over and the time for a highway bill is now!
Article Date: 2012-06-18
Source: Associated Equipment Distributors
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