After the 2014 mid-term election, House Speaker Boehner and soon to be Senate Majority Leader McConnell promised a return to regular order. The passage of the first congressional budget since 2009, showed that regular order does, indeed, make a difference. There is another pressing issue that provides the Leader and Speaker with the opportunity to fulfill their promise -- the long overdue highway reauthorization bill.
America's roads and bridges are in dire need of repair and/or replacement. DC alone has 14 bridges classified as 'structurally deficient." The American Association of State Highway and Transit Officials estimates the work required to restore our system to simply meet today's demand is $740 billion. Yet Congress, prior to departing for the Memorial Day recess, agreed to the 33rd short term extension of the operating authority for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in the past 6 years. This extension runs out on August 1 - the 8th anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.
Over the last ten years the HTF has spent $52 billion more than it collected. And since 2006, Congress has transferred more than $65 billion from the general fund into the HTF to ensure its solvency. Congress has spent years sidestepping the fact that the HTF needs to be refueled for the long term. This is no way to maintain, let alone grow, a 21st century transportation system.
Highway funding is not a liberal or conservative issue, a red state-blue state issue or even a democratic vs republican issue. It is a safety issue that impacts every American's daily life and has a huge impact on our economy. It is time for Congress to exit the dysfunction freeway and get back on the road to regular order.
The five committees of jurisdiction need to hold markups (only Senate Environment and Public Work has one slated) and report out a bill to authorize and pay for a six year highway bill. Take the bills to the floor for debate and allow amendments because this bill needs to make up for years of neglect as well as to take us six years into the future. Then call a House-Senate conference where the conferees actually sit down and work through the differences in the two bills.
We all know there is no easy answer to the highway funding question but ignoring it extension by extension is certainly no solution. Road and bridge projects are not going to get any less expensive if they are pushed further into the future, and our roads won't get any safer through benign neglect. So our congressional leaders need to keep their promise and use regular order to fix our roads and bridges and public transit systems.
Senator John McCain has said "Regular order leads to a conclusion -- a final vote" and our transportation system, our economy and the American people deserve to have a final vote to ensure the long-term safety and stability of our national transportation system.
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