WASHINGTON — The push for Congress to pass long-term highway funding legislation is reaching a fever pitch two weeks before the current law expires, as Sen. Barbara Boxer led a rally Wednesday urging approval of her two-year transportation bill in time to avoid another extension.
The Democrat from California, who chairs the House-Senate conference committee negotiating what she hopes will be the first multi-year bill since the previous one originally expired on Sept. 30, 2009, appeared alongside transportation advocates to urge Congress to act before the end of June.
The Transportation Construction Coalition also chose Wednesday to kick off a media campaign targeting four House Republican conferees, urging them not to let the month end without a new bill.
Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has struck an optimistic tone throughout the conference negotiations, which began in May. She and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the panel’s top Republican, have both said the talks on the majority of the bill have been constructive so far.
That’s a contrast to the less-optimistic stance of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who last week suggested there is a stalemate and that the lawmakers should pass a six-month extension to maintain funding at current levels. That would be the 10th such extension since the last multi-year bill.
Boxer continued to beat her drum Wednesday. “We’re about 80% there,” she said. “We are making progress. I don’t say there’s an impasse, I say there’s a definite lack of a sense of urgency.”
Jack Basso, director of program finance and management at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, also spoke in support of quick action. “We want to see completion of this bill,” he said.
Basso said states would voice “a strong objection” to any further extensions.
Conference committee co-chair Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also tried to stay upbeat in a statement issued after the rally.
“I remain hopeful that we can reach a bicameral compromise with the Senate. However, I am disappointed in the fact that Senate negotiators have yet to move significantly on key House reform proposals,” such as the Keystone XL pipeline, he said.
The TCC campaign, composed of radio ads targeting Reps. Dave Camp, R-Mich., James Lankford, R-Okla., Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, frames the issue as crucial for maintaining thousands of American jobs. “Will your congressman be part of the problem, or part of the transportation solution?” ask the ads, which will run through this week.
The TCC said it chose the four Republicans because either this is the first time they have been involved in negotiating a transportation bill, as is the case with Southerland and Lankford, or they serve on finance and tax committees, such as Camp and Tiberi.
The National Association of State Budget Officers and the National Governors Association said Tuesday that uncertainty about transportation funding is stalling state projects.