For decades, while Democrats and Republicans have squabbled over almost everything else, federal transportation and infrastructure investments have consistently enjoyed bipartisan support.
That’s been because these programs allow senators and representatives to help make Americans’ lives easier and help businesses move their goods, while supporting job creation and economic development.
What’s not to like?
For instance, even in the midst of an impeachment controversy in 1998, President Bill Clinton worked with a Republican-controlled Congress to pass a surface transportation authorization bill, TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century). A six-year authorization for $218 billion, it passed the House and Senate by bipartisan majorities.
Seven years later, with support from President George W. Bush and both parties’ leaders, the $286.5 billion SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) passed the House of Representatives by a 412-8 vote and a 91-4 vote in the Senate.
Recently, federal funding for transportation has traveled a rocky road of support. But with retailers, manufacturers, grocers and the construction industry all having so much at stake, some might say a breath of bipartisanship is more vital than ever.
SAFETEA-LU’s authorization expired on September 30, 2009 – more than two-and-a-half-years ago, and counting. It’s been extended eight times, with the current extension expiring on March 31, 2012.
Efforts to reauthorize the program have taken two divergent paths:
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) jointly introduced a two-year, $109 billion surface transportation authorization package that passed the Senate on March 14 by a bipartisan 74-22 vote.
Meanwhile, in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Transportation Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) first tried to get the votes for a $260 billion five-year reauthorization bill. Mica cleared the bill through the committee markup process. But, he and the Speaker did not generate sufficient support within the Republican conference to pass the bill out of the House. For their part, House Democrats said they had been excluded from the drafting process.
With the recent passage of a bipartisan bill in the Senate, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans are faced with these possible options:
• Craft legislation that can garner the support of at least 218 Republican members;
• Work with House Democrats on a proposal that can generate bipartisan support;
• Consider the recently passed Senate authorization bill; or
• Pass a long-term extension and shelve consideration of an authorization bill until after the 2012 presidential elections.
With the nation’s transportation policy at a crossroads, there are tremendous opportunities for companies, state governments and other stakeholders to raise their voices in the debate.
And a smart, effective government relations strategy and public relations program can help them make sure that those voices are heard.
After all, transportation advocates have a compelling case to make:
• According to a report from the World Economic Forum, America has fallen to 23rd in infrastructure quality globally;
• The American Society of Civil Engineers states that it will take about $2 trillion over the next five years to restore the country’s infrastructure;
• And a report by the Department of Transportation stated that for every $1 billion in federal investment in transportation infrastructure, an estimated 27,800 to 34,800 jobs are created.
As someone’s sure to say, the road ahead may be long and winding. But our destination is clear.Tweet