This evening the House Rules Committee voted a 90-day extension (expiring June 30, 2012) out to the House Floor for consideration tomorrow. This is the latest action following several attempts to bring a surface authorization extension up via suspension. Attempts to pass an extension failed due to a lack of support from Democratic Leadership and Democratic members resulting in the current process.
I expect this extension to pass by a majority vote primarily along partisan lines where it will then go to Senate. While it is unlikely for Congress to let authorization lapse resulting in a loss of collection of the federal gas tax as well as jeopardize projects at the start of the construction season, it does remain a very slim possibility as we saw with the FAA extension last August.
While unfortunate that a game of chicken is being played by Congressional leaders, it is difficult to place the blame squarely on Speaker Boehner or even Majority Leader Reid, at least this time. Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and the White House in the 111th Congress and were unable to go to conference on a surface reauthorization much less have legislation signed into law. However, that was then and this is now.
For either the House or Senate to say that they gave appropriate attention to a new surface transportation bill is far from the truth. Senators Boxer and Rockefeller have had an idea of what they wanted to see for some time. The same goes for Chairman Mica in the House. Unless evidence rises to the contrary, H.R. 7 does not look or feel like a bill the Chairman or his staff would have written. SAFETEA-LU expired several years ago and the problems of financing and restructuring programs are not new.
In what is becoming a trend, here’s hoping cooler heads prevail.