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House Still Deadlocked on Transportation Bill With Deadline Nearing

We are four days away from the expiration of the surface transportation bill, and Congress looks no closer to actually getting an extension done. The House adamantly won’t pass the bipartisan Senate bill, but they also can’t seem to pass their own short-term extension:

House Republicans on Tuesday failed for the second time in as many days to extend federal transportation funding before it expires at midnight on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, this has turned into a political ‘gotcha’ game,” said House Transportation Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.), whose own transportation bill stalled in the face of bipartisan opposition. “I’ve done everything I can to move this forward.”

The extension died Tuesday following an afternoon of angry partisan acrimony, with both sides invoking Thomas Jefferson to bolster their arguments and blaming each other for past failures. The measure required that two-thirds of the House vote to suspend the rules, and it failed on a voice vote.

This one was a 60-day extension, where the bill that failed yesterday extended programs for 90 days.

Without a transportation bill, eventually funding would run out for projects all over the country. The states usually pay for the projects up-front, and then get reimbursement from the feds. Without clarity on that reimbursement, they would be reluctant to continue moving projects forward. Also, the government would be unable to collect the 18.4-cent per gallon gas tax, which pays for transportation funding. While the near-term effect of this would be a gas tax holiday at a time of higher prices, it would be pretty devastating for federal finances; about $90 million a day would be lost.

House Democrats’ bright line is that any extension must include a conference committee on the broader bill. What they really want is for the House to pass the two-year Senate version to get this out the door.

Rep. Peter DeFazio accused Republicans of “hating America” for their failure to pass a highway bill. I could think of other reasons, but the point is that the current conditions of acrimony do not suggest that there will be any accommodation on this. It’s really a game of chicken right now, with the livelihoods of millions of construction workers hanging in the balance.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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