Washington Week Ahead: Room for compromise on transportation?

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 - Lawmakers in both chambers are pushing to complete new surface transportation bills before the President's week recess, Feb. 20-24, but are pursuing markedly different paths to completion.

While Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on most of their approaches to solving long overdue issues with our nation's transportation systems, recent progress on the Federal Aviation Administration bill---after 4 years of debate and temporary extensions-is cited by some as a signal that the surface transportation bill could also advance.

The last Surface Authorization bill expired in September 2009 and has been temporarily extended eight separate times. The latest extension is set to expire at the end of March. If nothing is done, the Highway Trust Fund will run dry and build up more red ink.


Last week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, at current spending levels, the fund's highway account will run out of money in 2013, and the transit account will be depleted in 2014. Those projections come as no surprise to lawmakers, but they differ on ways to fund investments in transportation infrustructure.

The Obama Administration wants to invest savings from the drawdown of troop deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan into the Trust Fund. House Republicans want to link new revenue from production of American energy to the Highway Trust Fund. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, intends to fully fund the transportation trust funds with a total of $9.6 billion in offsets. For more on the Baucus bill, click here.

Republicans touted the pro-growth aspects of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, H.R. 7, in their weekly address on Saturday. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-PA, said the bill will support the creation of more than one million private sector jobs by getting rid of government barriers that are getting in the way of job growth.  

 Together we can feed the Bees


Last week, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the measure, introduced in by Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica, R-FL, and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan, Jr., R-TN. The $260 billion bill was approved 29-24 on a mostly party line vote. Only Rep. Tom Petri, R-WI, broke ranks to vote against the measure.


“No other bill this Congress will create jobs, lower energy costs or improve our deteriorating infrastructure as effectively as this legislation,” Mica said. “With millions out of work, particularly in the construction industry, Americans deserve a long-term transportation, energy and jobs bill from Congress.


Later that day, the House Ways and Means Committee approved H.R. 3864, the revenue portion of the bill, which is expected to be folded into H.R. 7 when the House considers the legislation.


“The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act will be the most significant reform of transportation programs in decades,” Mica continued. “This bill will cut red tape, reduce the federal bureaucracy, move major infrastructure projects forward, attract more private sector participation, and give states the flexibility they need to address their most critical transportation needs.


In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Baucus plans to offer his Chairman's Mark on Tuesday afternoon and floor action could occur later in the week.


However, reconciling the two versions of the bills, with dramatically different funding mechansims and timelines, won't be easy. The $260 billion House measure spans about four and a half years, compared to the Senate's two-year package, which costs $109 billion over two years.  


For other news and events this week:


Monday, February 6


The U.S. Senate is expected to clear the conference report on a long-term bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.


Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan will address the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture at their Winter Policy Conference to talk about the Blueprint for Stronger Service in Reston, VA


2012 National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference


Tuesday, February 7


Senate Finance Committee: Chairman Baucus will consider his Chairman's Mark for the Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012 at 3:00 p.m. in Room 215 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. 


2012 NASDA Winter Policy Conference


Missouri primary. Colorado and Minnesota presidential nominating caucuses.


Wednesday, February 8


2012 NASDA Winter Policy Conference


10:00 a.m., House Committee on Energy and Commerce Hearing: The American Energy Initiative Subcommittee on Energy and Power, 2123 Rayburn HOB


2:00 p.m., House Committee on Financial Services Hearing: Hearing entitled, Limiting the Extraterritorial Impact of Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises, 2128 Rayburn HOB


USDA Reports: Broiler Hatchery


Thursday, February 9


Secretary Vilsack will highlight the Let's Move! Anniversary with the First Lady in Des Moines, IA


2012 NASDA Winter Policy Conference


9:30 a.m., House Committee on the Judiciary Hearing: Regional Perspectives on Agricultural Guestworker Programs, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, 2141 Rayburn HOB


11:00 AM CST First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Des Moines, Iowa


2:15 PM CST First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Little Rock, Arkansas at the Little Rock Air Force Base


5:30 PM CST First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Fort Worth, Texas


USDA Reports: Cotton Ginnings; Crop Production; Cotton, Grains, Oilseeds and World Agricultural Production Data; U.S. Export Sales; World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates; Cotton: World Markets and Trade; Grains: World Markets and Trade; World Agricultural Production; Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade; Season-Average Price Forecasts


Friday, February 10


9:00 AM CT First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Dallas, Texas


3:30 PM First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Homestead, Florida


7:00 PM ET First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Orlando, Florida


2012 NASDA Winter Policy Conference


USDA Reports: Dairy Products Prices; Peanut Prices; Rice Outlook; Oil Crops Outlook; Latest U.S. Agricultural Trade Data


Saturday, February 11


10:00 AM ET First Lady's Let's Move! tour in Longwood, Florida




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