House Transportation Bill: Huge Republican FAIL

Isaiah J. Poole

House Republicans today once again showed that they are not only ideologically wrong-headed but legislatively inept.

The House finally passed a transportation reauthorization bill, but not the fatally flawed five-year plan that House Speaker John Boehner had originally tried to move but failed, nor the perfectly reasonable two-year bill that received true bipartisan support in the Senate. Instead, it would be a just-over-five-month bill, lasting through the end of September.

The legislation is not a serious effort to address the nation’s transportation needs and get the nation’s jobs machine moving faster in the process. It is actually a middle finger in the face of the Obama administration, designed to score political points. It also has the effect of allowing a conference discussion to proceed with the Senate, which could yield a bill that would allow transportation projects to continue beyond September.

The Associated Press’s Joan Lowy summarizes the path to this pathetic end:

House Republican leaders decided on the strategy after repeatedly trying and failing to garner enough votes to pass their own, long-term transportation plan. That effort ran into opposition from tea-party conservatives, who say transportation programs should be paid for entirely by user fees such as federal gas and diesel taxes, even though revenue from those taxes isn’t enough to cover current transportation spending. Conservatives also would like to see the federal role in transportation dramatically reduced, with states picking up those responsibilities. However, moderate Republicans from suburban districts don’t want transportation spending cut and complained about the bill’s treatment of transit programs

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The middle finger to the administration, and to people seeking a rational energy policy, is the inclusion of approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, bypassing the careful environmental reviews that the administration and many of the communities affected by the pipeline believe are essential. While the progressive coalition is split in its views on whether the pipeline should be built, we should all agree that such a pipeline should not be built without the assurances that it will not create environmental damage that would far outweigh its already disputable selling points.

“The Administration is strongly opposed to this bill because it seeks to circumvent a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest and for assessing the environmental impacts by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline project, despite the fact that the pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts, including impacts on health and safety, the economy, foreign policy, energy security, and the environment,” the White House said in its statement threatening a veto of the legislation as now written.

But Republican leaders think they have a wedge issue in the Keystone pipeline during the 2012 elections, and having that is more important than passing a bill that would add millions of jobs if done right.

Today’s irresponsible action by the House virtually forecloses meaningful action to address the nation’s transportation problems—and to seize the opportunity afforded by record-low borrowing costs to finance the construction of the 21st-century transportation network suitable for a 21st-century economy. We needed a fully funded five-to-six-year transportation authorization, ideally along the lines of the $556 billion proposal offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. That proposal would have enabled states and communities to expand public transportation systems, fix highways and bridges, and start construction of high-speed rail networks. This missed opportunity is a Republican failure, one that voters should place at the top of their lists when they evaluate candidates this fall.

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