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Federal Transportation Bill

Transpo Bills Delayed in House and Senate as Congress Enters Recess

1:37 PM EST on February 20, 2012

Both houses of Congress are in recess this week, putting off their mountain of unfinished transportation business until next Monday. The momentum carrying transportation bills forward in each chamber has eroded recently.

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Last week, the House split its transportation bill -- the one that eliminates dedicated funding for transit, bicycling, and walking -- into three parts in a bid to improve its chances for passage. The House GOP has already passed their drilling bill, but their pension reform bill -- which was supposed to create savings that would then be spent on transportation -- was made worthless when its provisions became part of a separate tax cut deal struck on Friday.

As for the actual transportation part, John Boehner has so far delayed its consideration, prompting speculation that he doesn't have the votes to pass it. Advocates for transit and safe streets can't let up yet, however. Boehner is still trying to muster a majority.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, an attempt to push forward with combining the four pertinent committee bills into one bill failed on Friday. The bills still can (and will) be combined, but Majority Leader Harry Reid must now work with Republicans to allow more amendments to be proposed first.

Republican James Inhofe expects that the so-called "non-germane" amendments, dealing with issues like insurance coverage for contraception and aid to Egypt, will not pass, Politico reports. None of T4America's tracked amendments, including the Cardin-Cochran amendment that gives local governments access to bike-ped funding, have been voted on yet.

Current federal transportation policy expires on March 31. That leaves Congress only 16 legislative days -- they get another week off in March and aren't in session on Fridays -- to figure out some kind of transportation deal.

Their possibilities have dwindled:

    1. The no good, rotten House bill somehow passes, as does the Senate's drastically different bill. They are reconciled by a conference committee, requiring major compromises from both chambers, voted on again, and signed into law upon passage.
    2. The House abandons its bill, and starts from scratch based on the Senate bill -- or simply votes on the Senate bill when it passes. Any remaining differences are reconciled by a conference committee (easier than in option 1), and signed into law upon passage.
    3. There are any number of ways the first two scenarios might collapse (the House could pass their bill but fail to reconcile it with the Senate, for instance). If they do, then current policy could be extended for the ninth time, and the entire reauthorization process would repeat itself sometime after the November general elections.
    4. Failing all of these, federal transportation funding will go into shutdown until an agreement is reached on number 1, 2, or 3.

Option 4 is probably the least likely, since it would cause chaos and bring on a PR nightmare for everyone involved. The House bill faces resistance from several House Republicans, is completely unpalatable in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and is opposed by the White House, making option 1 highly unlikely as well.

If options 2 and 3 are all that remain, the ball is largely in John Boehner's court. The man who bet big on attacking transit can continue pushing his chamber to the right, eroding the chances his bill will pass and essentially forcing an extension. Or he can fall on his sword, scrap his extreme transportation plan, and follow the Senate's example by making concessions -- on transit funding, say -- to Democrats and moderate Republicans.

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