WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders pushed through another extension of the nation’s highway programs Wednesday evening, a move politicians and industry advocates said could clear the way for a conference with the Senate to produce a bill through 2013.
The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II, won House approval by a vote of 293-127. The measure, sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., extends current programs through September but also contains key provisions from Mica’s unpopular five-year, $260 billion bill that would allow the extension to be used as a framework for a conference with the Senate.
Those provisions include approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and changes preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash.
It is the 10th extension since the original law expired on Sept. 30, 2009.
Mica said he is hopeful that this latest extension will allow the House to head to conference committee with the Senate, which passed its own two-year, $109 billion transportation bill last month.
“We can hopefully bring about resolution,” Mica told colleagues during debate on the bill Wednesday.
Democrats continue to complain about the heavy-handed tactics of Republican leaders, who they claim have ignored them since Mica introduced his bill in February.
Democrats who took to the floor to debate the extension lamented the divide that has taken hold in the House and complained about the environmental repercussions of increased oil drilling and softer regulation of pollutants.
“The Republican leadership have ruined a process that used to be bipartisan,” said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
But Mica said the Obama administration is “still meandering” on energy policy and that he is “tired of these delays,”
The White House threatened a veto of the measure on the basis of the Keystone XL pipeline, sending out a Tuesday press release stating that the president’s advisors will recommend he quash the bill.
Although the measure doesn’t have the 11th-hour urgency of the extension passed just 48 hours before the expiration of the previous one three weeks ago, municipal leaders continue to feel the urgent need for long-term assurances of what federal money will be available to help them finance infrastructure projects.
“We urge Congress to remember the words of past presidents and take action to reach a bipartisan agreement on a long-term transportation solution,” said Ted Ellis, mayor of Bluffton, Ind., and president of the National League of Cities
Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure and vice president of Americans for Transportation Mobility at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the extension provides “an avenue to get to a conference,” but she continued to stress the need for Congress to get to work on a long-term solution.
“Regardless, the House and Senate will have to act again in 2013,” Kavinoky said.