A multi-year transportation bill is delayed again.
The House and Senate will vote this week on extending SAFETEA-LU, the federal surface transportation legislation which is due to expire at midnight this coming Saturday, March 31. The legislation is expected to pass. It will be the ninth extension of the legislation which originally expired Sept. 30, 2009. Expect numerous references to the Beatle’s Revolution #9 in the blogosphere and twittersphere.
The House is scheduled to act first and will take up a 90-day extension that makes no changes to the existing law (aka “clean extension). That’s a relief to many stakeholders, who feared that Republicans would force through unwanted policy changes or spending reductions. That’s what happened last year with the Aviation extension. The Senate Democratic leadership, initially cool to the idea of an extension, reportedly are preparing a 45-day extension. That would set up a collision course with the House. Senate Republicans support an extension, and are probably like to support the House’s version.
Transportation stakeholders will be torn. Extensions are problematic for public agencies, causing extra and redundant financing paperwork, and uncertainty in project deliver. Agencies prefer the least number of extensions possible, and the longest length extension possible.
So, many stakeholders would settle for a 45-day extension if they knew it would lead to a multi-year bill, or an extension into next year – and not to another 45- or 30-day extension. Stakeholders will also like that a 45-day extension keeps the pressure on Congress to work out its differences – Congress always works best under a deadline.
But many agencies are heading into their construction season and will prefer the certainty of the longer 90-day extension. Others believe it will take at least 90 days for the House to pass a bill, and for the Senate and House to successfully negotiate either a multi-year bill or an extension into 2013.
There hasn’t been much talk between Senate and House leaders, according to Politico: “Boxer said she can’t even get a call back from Speaker Boehner: “I’ve written to Boehner and I’ve asked him to call and he hasn’t really called. He’s answered my letters via his spokesperson. So it doesn’t appear as if he wants to have a chat.”
House Republican leaders are actively working on crafting a multi-year bill that can pass the House. Bill Shuster, a leading Republican on the Transportation Committee and key ally of leadership said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Republicans can reach agreement on legislation in early April. Part of leadership’s challenge is that so many proposals have been floated that many Republicans are unsure what leadership is advocating for.