As fuel prices rise at the pumps and the president apparently is doing nothing to help, here is food for thought. Capitol Hill might be all abuzz about the possibility that they might be able to pass a highway bill this year, but with this being an election year we all know Congress is too interested in getting re-elected than doing any work that might not get them re-elected to office.
The rough road ahead for the two versions of the House and Senate bills to come to any agreement as to either a two- year bill or five-year bill. Now for the first time in seven years, Capitol Hill has been buzzing with talk of a highway bill. While the talk continued, optimism that a bill would pass and become law has a rough road to go.
The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and Democratic leadership in the Senate were still split on a wide range of provisions that included how much to spend and how many years to have this new bill in place. Now the House bill calls for five years of funding and transportation policies and programs totaling $260 bill over five years. Now the Senate version of a similar bill calls for two years of funding at a cost of $109 billion for two years.
Of course the Senate was first to the floor in getting its bill off the ground last November when the Environment and Public Works Committee passed its bill, known as the Moving ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21. So, is this just another stop gap measure by the Senate to prolong something that neither side of the isle wants to deal with in an election year? Yes, MAP-21 continues funding and highway provisions for the transportation authorization, and the members have hailed it as a bipartisan bill.
Despite the high points of SB 1813 and MAP-21, they are facing a rough road heading into floor debates.
Of the two primary issues that confront these two bills is that they are tied to the highway bill or raising the fuel tax, which hasn't been done since 1998. Both of these are nonissues during an election year; but once the elections are over, don't be surprised if the fuel tax will be increased on the federal level and the states follow suite shortly after. With both S1813 and Map-21on the table, Congress is wading into territory they have not seen since they passed SAFETEA-LU back in the summer of 2005. This highway bill and funding are still in effect despite the technical expiration of the law in September of 2009. Since then, Congress has passed eight temporary extensions of SAFETEA-LU to keep transportation afloat.
You need to know that those current extensions are due to expire on March 31, putting Congress once again up against the wall to finish either a new bill or extend the status quo yet again. If one or both S1813 or MAP-21 were to pass, the House and Senate would have to appoint a conference committee to draft up the final language. Both chambers would have to pass their versions of what they want as the final language of the bill before sending it to the legislation to the president's desk for signature. With a presidential election set to take place in November, the clock continues to tick on the process that could make or break the next generation of surface transportation programs. But don't be surprised if nothing gets done this year.