The Senate and House have both turned to transportation reform as a job creator and way to appeal to voters in an election year. Yet, partisanship, a polarized Congress, and the ever present federal deficit are severely limiting this much needed reform. The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act before the House may create more problems that it solves. The bill eliminates guarantees for federal funding for mass-transit systems as a portion of the 18.4 cent-a-gallon gas-tax. The bill also threatens funding for pedestrian and cyclist safety programs. The possibility of opening further drilling in Alaska and the recovering Gulf has been presented as a way to sway Tea-Partiers to vote for what they consider a large spending bill.
The House bill proposes $265 billion over 5 years. The Washington Post, however, cited a 2009 report to Congress that found that $200 billion a year was necessary "just to clear the backlog of existing projects." The President's proposal of close to half a trillion over the next six years comes close to these numbers. However, in a debt-conscience political climate this is not political feasible. Which is why the White House has decided to support the Senate bill. A $109 billion spending measure over 18 months. While Senate Democrats are struggling some with how to pay for the bill, the House bill's passage is being threatened both from within and outside the party. The Senate bill's bipartisan support, co-authored by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and James Inhofe, R-OK, has been essential to seeing it through debate. Yet House GOP members representing metro-area districts oppose the bills buts to mass transit. The environmental impact of drilling and the cuts to pedestrian programs have largely ensured no House Dems will vote for the bill.
Our nation's roads need attention and have for far too long. Even when all parties agree that reform is needed, gridlock stops policy in its tracks. Factions try to incorporate their own private oil interests into the bill and spending towards the program is well below the minimum needed for true reform. With Congressional Budget Office projecting the highway trust-fund to go bankrupt by 2013, how long can Washington wait? Does one even bother to suggest putting the partisan hatchet aside in the name of what's best for the country?