Boxer and Inhofe Agree: Transportation Policy Reform Can Wait

Green transportation advocates are pressing Congress to refuse any new spending that’s not tied to reform of the existing system — a call that influential senators in both parties ruled out today.

peasinpod.jpgPhoto: CNN

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), the panel’s ranking GOPer, in endorsing another 18 months of the 2005 transportation bill.

The extension, Boxer said, should be "clean as it can be, clean as a whistle … not with these policy changes, because it will in fact jeopardize a quick passage of this extension."

Boxer’s agreement to an extension free of policy reforms appears to be an acknowledgment that Inhofe and most other GOP senators would slow down approval of the short-term transportation measure. But she faced a lone critic today in Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who challenged Boxer to back down from her opposition to raising the federal gas tax during an economic recession.

"I will tell you that if you go out to the people of America
and say [a gas tax hike] is the solution, they’re not going to buy it,"

Boxer said.

Voinovich reminded the Californian that she "is always talking about the environment; [drafting a new transportation bill] is going to have a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions." He suggested that senators "look at" the House transportation bill offered by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and pitch the American public on an increase in the gas tax, which has remained static since 1993.

In fact, recent polling supports Voinovich’s argument, not Boxer’s. A survey released earlier this year by the advocacy group Building America’s Future found that 81 percent of Americans would pay more in federal taxes to support infrastructure investments.

But the alignment of Boxer and Inhofe, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) — whose Finance Committee must agree on a revenue source for the next transportation bill — in favor of a clean 18-month extension is enough to doom the House effort to pass a bill this year.

Boxer described the process as a "two-track effort," promising to work on a "transformational" long-term transportation bill during the 18-month extension period of the existing law.

Given Congress’ full plate and Boxer’s focus on climate change legislation, however, the chances of passing a broader six-year transportation bill before 2011 look slim right now.

Boxer closed the hearing by asserting that the lack of a revenue source for a new transportation bill, not the crowded congressional calendar, is driving her support for a "clean" 18-month extension.

"For those who want to focus on transformation, I urge them to work with me on my global warming bill," which will have a transportation portion, she said.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What is more upsetting. Democrats saying they are in no position to choose the responsible course with the President and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate? Or Republicans calling for them to do so after their party pandered to short term selfishness as a means to win elections for the better part of 30 years?

    Perhaps its time to look beyond party membership, and think about membership in Generation Greed. For which the best way to pay for things to do is to borrow money and make younger generations sacrifice double tomorrow.

  • I’m over Democrats. Total dereliction of duty. They cave every chance they get. At least with Republicans we know who the enemy of progress is. Democrats veil their contempt for forward action with platitudes and phony nods towards progress. Uggh.

  • Moser

    What’s most upsetting is that Inhofe might as well be running that committee with an idiot like Boxer up there.

  • neb

    If you can’t step forward with increasing a revenue source that has not increased with inflation since 1993, over 15 years ago, then you’ve got a problem.

    In any case, I’m not so sure Barbara Boxer really understands the climate and energy issue. These senators and other congress people talk the talk, but they really are just as bad as anyone in their actual habits. They live in suburbs, they drive big cars everywhere, they never take public transit and they sure as hell don’t understand why anyone would want to ride a bike for utilitarian purposes in the city.

    (Thankfully Oberstar gets some of this.)

  • TAS

    Okay, Dems disappoint.
    But, reality is Congress doesn’t work that many days anymore. Health care, climate change, Sotomayor–that’s the priority list right now, and it’s not coming from Boxer, but from the other end of Pennsylvania Ave.
    Oberstar’s got his head in the sand if he thinks he can get a transformative bill passed before the fund runs out in August or simply expires at September’s end. Remember, they don’t work a day during August. Look at the trouble they had on such a mild climate bill.
    Does it suck to see one’s personal priorities dispatched to the bottom of the list? No doubt. But don’t blame Boxer; it’s Obama’s show.

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