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Congress Reaches Deal on Transportation Bill, But Time a Factor

Jun 28, 2012

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

What a difference a week makes. Just as the elusive highway reauthorization bill appeared to be falling apart amid a flurry of blame and finger-pointing, matters took a dramatic turn this week as Congress scrambled to pass the measure ahead of a Saturday deadline that could leave thousands of construction workers jobless. And yet, still, time is not on their side.

House and Senate leaders reached an agreement this week that will tie the highway bill – which will now run until September 2014 -- to a student loan deal in the hopes of speeding passage. A final vote could come either Friday or Saturday.

Republicans agreed to drop two big fish in agreeing to a deal: a provision to speed approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline and another blocking Environmental Protection Agency regulations of the disposal of coal ash. If the Senate can reach agreement on a five-year flood insurance program, that measure will also be included in the combined package, Senate aides told NJ. In exchange, Republicans won concessions curbing environmental reviews for highway projects and diverted money away from bike paths and pedestrian safety projects.

A conference committee has been trying to hammer out a deal and get the bill to a floor vote. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer invoked a football metaphor to update the status of the bill this week, saying it’s on “the half-yard line,” according to Politico. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he can “see the light at the end of the tunnel” of negotiations.

The Senate passed a bipartisan two-year $109 billion bill earlier this year, but the divided Republican-dominated House could only manage to produce a shell bill that got the two houses to conference.

  • Read the complete June 28, 2012, edition of Executive Insight Briefing.
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