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Congress Reconvenes With Transportation Deadlines Fast Approaching
Posted By Ben Goldman On January 18, 2012 @ 8:55 am In House of Representatives,Reauthorization,U.S. Senate | 2 Comments
Speaker John Boehner called the House of Representatives back into session yesterday, while the Senate will reconvene next Tuesday. And not a moment too soon: A number of major transportation laws will expire shortly, with calls to action coming from both sides. After all, many of these laws are extensions of extensions, and each side is hoping to claim a victory in an election year.
Here’s a recap and preview of Congress’ pressing transportation-related business.
First Things First: Aviation
Aviation policy isn’t usually something that gets mentioned on Streetsblog. It isn’t included in the federal surface transportation authorization bill (for obvious reasons) and airplanes only rarely wind up having to share our streets . However, the FAA authorization law  ran out over 4 years ago and has been extended 22 times… and it runs out again in 14 days. It is expected to be a priority for Congress, one which they will tackle before any other transportation legislation, even if all they decide to do is extend it for a 23rd time until after the election.
Once That’s Done: The 2011 Tax Extender Extender
The bill that extended the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance – but allowed a tax break for transit commuters to fall  to half that of people parking their cars – expires at the end of February. Two committees could facilitate its reinstatement: the Republican-controlled House Ways & Means or the Democrat-controlled Senate Finance. Senator Charles Schumer has been very vocal in his support for restoration of the transit commuter benefit  at its 2011 level, and there could be enough support to reinstate it for the rest of 2012. Sen. Schumer has called for the benefit to be extended retroactively to January and February, but the nature of a monthly benefit — as opposed to an annual one — likely makes a retroactive extension problematic to the point of being unworkable.
The Main Event: Surface Transportation Reauthorization
The current federal law authorizing highway and transit programs, SAFETEA-LU, expires in 73 days. As with aviation, the chance does exist that the surface transportation law will simply be extended  until after the election (it would be the 9th such extension), but Politico reports  that the House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica and Ranking Member Nick Rahall intend to avoid that. Larry Ehl at Transportation Issues Daily did a pretty good job yesterday of breaking down the three major decisions  facing surface transportation reauthorization: length of bill (in years), size of bill (in dollars), and source of funds. Each depends a great deal on the other two, and so far there are only two seriously contending combinations:
Beyond the basic structure of the bill, the most controversial debates are expected to be over inclusion of a national infrastructure bank versus expansion of state infrastructure banks and dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs , which face opposition in both chambers.
Also controversial will be Obama’s ambitious intercity high-speed and passenger rail programs. As Joshua Schank, President of the Eno Transportation Foundation, told Streetsblog, the recent setbacks and shakeups  at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are “not going to help when it comes to funding Amtrak or upgrading railroads.”
No hearing or markup dates have been set by either house.
The Distant Future: Department of Transportation Authorization
While a long-term surface transportation authorization bill would fund U.S. DOT’s programs, the department itself is kept running by a separate law, which will expire on September 30. The way this Congress has flirted with government shutdowns, what should be a routine, ho-hum law could be sucked into the larger partisan debate over government spending.
Article printed from Streetsblog Capitol Hill: http://dc.streetsblog.org
URL to article: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/01/18/congress-reconvenes-with-transportation-deadlines-fast-approaching/
URLs in this post:
 Image: http://dc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/John+Mica+Boehner+Holds+News+Conference+American+x1KesckLyCul.jpg
 Zimbio: http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/MSNBC/Components/Photo/_new/120117-occupy-dc-1045a.photoblog600.jpg
 The Final Countdown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyggY_R3jU8
 The Neverending Story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3khTntOxX-k
 share our streets: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_kxPG6y8Qctk/SlTwFiLMYpI/AAAAAAAAJIg/hpEOKH3hmMQ/s400/plane-crosses-a-road-1.jpg
 FAA authorization law: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/03/29/aviation-bill-foretelling-what%E2%80%99s-to-come-for-surface-transportation/
 to fall: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/12/20/senate-fails-to-extend-transit-commuter-tax-benefit/
 restoration of the transit commuter benefit: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/01/05/commuter-transit-tax-break-could-reclaim-parity-with-parking-in-2012/
 extended: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/08/30/with-deadlines-looming-mica-supports-transportation-extension/
 reports: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71497.html
 three major decisions: http://www.transportationissuesdaily.com/3-political-challenges-to-enacting-transportation-bill-by-march-31/
 but never unveiled it: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/11/30/house-gop-slows-down-its-rush-to-introduce-oil-and-infrastructure-bill/
 next month: http://www.pjstar.com/news/x58617011/Schock-transportation-bill-vote-could-come-next-month
 Transit title: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/11/22/what-will-the-senate-bill%E2%80%99s-transit-section-look-like/
 Several Republican Senators: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/12/09/another-gop-transportation-proposal-thats-really-all-about-oil-drilling/
 bicycle and pedestrian programs: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/11/29/whats-lost-when-transportation-enhancements-becomes-%E2%80%9Ccmaq-aa%E2%80%9D/
 setbacks and shakeups: http://www.hsrupdates.com/news/details/Enos-Schank-weighs-in-on-CHSRA-executive-shakeup-HSRs-nearterm-future--1100
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