More Reasons Not To Expect a New Transportation Bill Until 2013
Because Democrats failed to pass a new Transportation Bill when they controlled both Congress and the White House in 2009 and 2010, the bill’s renewal has been stuck in limbo since the far right seized control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections. Despite some efforts to get a new bill approved this year, the bill appears to be stuck. And as Transportation Issues Daily reports, there are two reasons why we shouldn’t expect a new bill anytime this year:
There are two reasons Congress is unlikely to pass a new bill, and instead will extend SAFETEA-LU, in a lame duck session.
1. The logistics are against it. Congress will likely have only about four weeks to deal with a multitude of issues. True, there are about seven weeks between Election Day and January 2 when the sequester-triggered spending cuts are scheduled to occur. But holidays will cut out two weeks to three weeks. Figure another week off right after the election. There simply won’t be enough time to deal with all the issues that are being postponed to the lame duck session.
2. Other issues will trump transportation. First and foremost will be a 2013 budget, and dealing with the looming sequestration spending reductions and expiring tax cuts. Other issues that likely will need to be addressed and could trump transportation: payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits, doctors’ Medicare payments, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and the estate tax and the renewal of a tax-extenders package. Other issues that could get postponed to the lame duck session include major legislation like the renewal of the Farm Bill.
Perhaps the best predictor that the lame duck session will be “chaotic [and] high-stakes” is that lobbyists are already cancelling their November/December vacations. One lobbyist advises others to complete their holiday shopping before the election.
The best hope for high speed rail advocates is that nothing happens until 2013 and Democrats win this November’s elections – keeping the Senate and the White House and retaking the House. It’s no guarantee that Dems would pass a Transportation Bill, as 2009 and 2010 showed us. On the other hand, the experience of those two years would show Dems that they might not have a lot of time in the majority and should get good things done now. More importantly, Democrats in the House and the Senate have shown support for funding high speed rail, and we know that President Obama has been a strong proponent of HSR funding.
A new Transportation Bill with dedicated and predictable funding for HSR would go a long way to easing some of the concerns from HSR skeptics in California about the project’s finances. Tea Party Republicans in the House have gutted federal HSR funding in the last two years, making other HSR projects look less viable because of the lack of long-term federal funding. A new majority in the House could reverse that and bolster the California HSR project with dedicated funding.
At least, that’s the hope.