Week Ending March 16, 2012
Senate Approves Surface Transportation Bill
With just two weeks remaining before the current surface transportation legislation expires, the Senate passed on a bipartisan vote a reauthorization of legislation to fund road and transit programs. The bill (S. 1813) was approved on March 14 by a vote of 74-22. S. 1813 provides $109 billion over two years for funding highway, transit and safety programs at current levels, with most adjusted for inflation.
Initially, 230 possible amendments were released for review but only about 30 were actually introduced and voted on. One amendment that passed, offered by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), allows use of federal and postal employee retirement funds to extend the Secure Rural Schools Act, providing for road repair in rural areas. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) successful amendment provides a disincentive for states to privatize their highways by removing these projects from the calculation used to apportion federal highway funds. One controversial amendment introduced by Sen. Pat Robertson (R-KS) would have extended the current two-year federal pay freeze for an additional year, through 2013, but it failed to pass. In the end AFSCME, working with our labor allies, was successful in defeating several additional harmful amendments.
After the Senate vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to move swiftly to pass the Senate bill. Boehner at one point said he intended to have the House do so, but there may be insufficient support for it in the GOP caucus. The House had been working on a longer-term bill (H.R. 7), but support for that measure has waned.
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