Surface transportation bill at a standstill as deadline looms…

After a flurry of activity over the past few weeks that brought competing versions of surface transportation reauthorization legislation to the House and Senate floors, both chambers are now at a standstill as they struggle to find the best path forward toward passage. Unfortunately, time is not on their side — current federal highway and transit programs expire on March 31, and the highway trust fund is expected to run out of money at the end of the year.

In the Senate today, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that a cloture vote will be held on Tuesday, March 6, on S. 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, a two-year reauthorization bill. Scores of non-germane amendments have been filed to the bill, and the Majority Leader is attempting to increase pressure on Senate Republicans to drop their amendments in order to expedite approval of the bill in the coming days. However, it appears that the Majority is short of the 60 votes required to move toward final passage.

In the House, the Republican leadership is rethinking its five-year reauthorization approach embodied by H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, reported from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this year. At this stage, leadership simply does not have the votes for the bill, as nearly every Democrat will likely oppose it, along with centrist Republicans who are concerned about mass transit, and fiscally conservative Republicans who object to the overall cost of the bill. The House is currently working on crafting a two-year (or shorter) alternative that retains current trust fund financing mechanisms for mass transit, but reduces overall costs. As of today, the House leadership has not placed any surface transportation reauthorization on the schedule for the week of March 5.

At the very least, House and Senate transportation leaders must pass a short-term extension of highway and transit programs, or risk the disruption that would ensue to projects around the country if the programs are allowed to expire on March 31.

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