Breaking: House Highway Bill is Dead

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 and is filed under Blog

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We’re happy to announce the late breaking news that John Boehner has agreed to scuttle the 5-year House highway bill (H.R. 7).  It had been postponed until next week, but CQ is reporting that Boehner is permanently killing HR 7 and will formulate a shorter reauthorization bill.

According to a senior House GOP aide, the House bill will be shorter than the bill (HR 7) that was supposed to move to the House floor next week. How much shorter is unclear; the aide said it would still “provide plenty of time for a new Congress and new president to enact a long-term reauthorization.”

The aide also said the changes to transit funding that the bill had originally contained — primarily, getting rid of its funding link to the Highway Trust Fund — will be “postponed.”

Additionally, since the bill’s duration will be shorter, funding may be reduced below current levels. This could potentially help the GOP deal with the fact that $15.5 billion worth of the bulk of the pension changes they had planned to use to offset the bill’s spending are now gone.

The revamped bill will retain such provisions as project expediting and environmental streamlining. Additionally, the bill is expected to continue to link infrastructure funding to an expansion of energy production. Procedurally, the aide said the truncated surface transportation bill is expected to be attached to the energy production bill the House passed last week (HR 3408).

While this is definitely good news, let me offer a cautionary note.  As bad as HR 7 was, it was actually disliked by some liberal Republicans.  They didn’t want any cuts to mass transit, wishing to continue funding public transportation projects from gas tax revenue.  The new bill might be a compromise for liberal Republicans, not for us.  They might use the same illusory cuts that will never pass in order to offset the cost of the shorter term bill (perhaps, two years or so).  The overall cost will be much lower, but it will still continue down the same top-down failed federally controlled transportation policy.  It will just kick the can down the road for future bailouts. It will also allow them to continue funding mass transit from gas tax revenue.

At the very least, the shorter term nature of the bill should make it slightly less costly, but we have to reserve judgement in order to render a final verdict.

The bottom line is that any bill that fails to either devolve transportation funding to the states or permanently eliminate mass transit, will still create the need for future bailouts.  We’ll update y’all as the details become available.