How Right-Wingers Are Trying to Scuttle the House Transportation Bill
The House is expected to approve the long-awaited transportation bill this afternoon despite opposition from right-wing pressure groups and some members of the tea party wing of the GOP. The 599-page conference bill can be seen here. A 99-page explanatory document is here.
As it now stands, the transportation billwouldextend funding authority for five years, but it would only authorize spending for the next two years at the same level as is now the case. This would carry the program to the end of 2014 with spending of $120 billion.
The bill, a product of a House-Senate conference committee at work since early April, also includes legislation designed to hold the line on interest for Stafford student loans and additional financing for underwriting flood insurance in high-risk areas. The bill would reauthorize spending for the flood insurance program for two years and the student loan program for one year. If the bill is not passed by midnight Saturday, the federal government will lose its authority to collect the 18.4 cent-a-gallon gas tax which funds surface transportation projects. This would mean those projects would grind to a halt and massive lay-offs would ensue. That is a situation Democrats and, apparently, most Republicans want to avoid.
But some right-wing groups want Republicans to vote against the agreement.
The pressure from groups like the Heritage Foundation’s political arm and the anti-tax Club for Growth raises the possibility that conservatives in the House will put up a roadblock to the long-sought bicameral transportation agreement—and in the process put the brakes on a painstakingly negotiated compromise with the Democratically controlled Senate.
Both the Heritage Foundation’s political committee and the Club for Growth warned lawmakers on Thursday they would hold votes in favor of it against lawmakers in the run-up to November's election.
One of the right wing's objections is the overall level of spending. The original House proposal that was never voted on was for significantly less and the conference bill would impose extra fees and a tax to raise $20 billion over the next decade. The raises would be on the level of premiums companies pay into the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to insure their pensions and on roll-your-own cigarettes.
To shape the transportation bill into something that could pass both the House and the Senate, conferees removed language that would have gutted regulations on hazardous coal ash and mandated federal approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. It also includes "streamlining" of environmental approval of local projects and a change in support for "transportation enhancements" such as bikeways and pedestrian-ways. Half the TE money will now go directly to municipalities and half to states, which can opt to spend the money on roads instead.
Matt Dellinger at Transportation Nation wrote:
Something of a breakthrough. The conference report makes useful changes but fails to put the nation on the solid footing that transportation advocates of both parties have been yearning for. For example, it doesn’t replace or significantly augment gas-tax funding. Nor does it create or even allow a visionary level of investment—public or private.
A visionary transportation bill? That will apparently have to wait at least another two years.