CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
June 13, 2012 – 11:00 p.m.
Highway Negotiations Bog Down
By Nathan Hurst, CQ Staff
Prospects for a highway bill conference agreement appeared to dim Wednesday, as House and Senate negotiators traded blame for their lack of progress on major areas of disagreement.
In response, Rep.
Unless the impasse is broken in time to clear a bill before the end of the month, another extension of highway programs will be needed to avoid bringing transportation spending to a mid-summer halt.
Rhetoric aside, the most substantive disagreement appeared to involve the determination of House Republicans to go further than the Senate is willing to go in order to ease environmental and regulatory reviews of transportation projects. House Republicans want to set deadlines for completion of some regulatory reviews, while Senate Democrats insist on “safety valves” that would allow regulators to get extensions.
Shuster also said Republicans want to see movement by the Senate to further restrict the transportation enhancement program, which currently requires states to set aside a portion of surface transportation aid for programs such as highway beautification and walking and biking trails. The Senate bill would allow states to spend that money on a wider array of projects, but Shuster said House Republicans want to let states opt out of the program altogether and reallocate the funds to highway maintenance and expansion.
But House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman
Senate Democrats have resisted what they view as a partisan effort to embarrass President Obama, and Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman
Senate Democrats stepped up the political pressure on House Republicans, calling on the leadership to take up and clear the Senate-passed highway bill (
Boxer, the conference chairwoman, offered a two-word response when asked to assign blame for the failure so far to reach a conference agreement: “House Republicans.”
For their part, House negotiators were unhappy about the pressure tactics, including Boxer’s appearance at an event at the foot of Capitol Hill sponsored by a group called the “Transportation Construction Coalition.” The group launched a radio advertising “blitz” on Wednesday urging constituents of Republican House members
Highway Negotiations Bog Down
The ad was just part of growing pressure on conferees from construction industry groups — including the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association — to complete work on the highway bill before the current authorization (PL 112-102) lapses on June 30.
While House Republicans accuse Senate conferees of intransigence, the failure of the House leadership to bring its own five-year highway bill (
There was a growing sentiment Wednesday among aides involved in the negotiations and representatives of industry groups with an interest in the reauthorization that it is unlikely conferees can reach an agreement before the end of the month.
“That’s a decision made by Chairman Mica and the Speaker,” Shuster said. “By next week, we’ll have to start considering that option in a serious way. I guess we’ve got about a week.”