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Senate Passes Transportation Bill; What About the House?

Mar 15, 2012

This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.

In a rare burst of election-year bipartisanship, a two-year, $109 billion surface-transportation bill sailed through the Senate this week, 74-22. The only problem: No one is certain what the House is going to do—and time is running out.

The Senate bill keeps transportation spending steady, despite deficit concerns, by relying on a patchwork of taxes in addition to ever-shrinking gasoline-tax revenues, which had filled the Highway Trust Fund in the past. The bill also keeps public-transportation funding level.

The Senate bill passed with one significant amendment: a proposal by Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that would make it more difficult to privatize existing highways and turn them into toll roads. The bill also significantly expands a federal loan program for new transportation projects that often involves public-private partnerships.

The House has its own five-year, $260 billion bill, funded in part by increased oil drilling, but no Democrat plans to vote for it; nearly 100 Republicans have come out against it (and a stripped-down, but still developing version) and the White House has threatened a veto.

Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner called taking up the Senate bill “an option,” but would almost certainly like to put his own stamp on the legislation. The House is out until next week, and a March 31 deadline is looming. On top of that, House Republicans want to deal with health care and budget legislation first, meaning that it’s likely Congress will have to approve yet another short-term extension.

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