The Senate passed their transportation reauthorization bill yesterday by a vote of 89 - 11. This measure includes the additional funding added by Senators Grassley and Baucus. In total, approximately $11 billion in funding is added to the $284 provided by the House and Administration initiatives - totaling the Senate passed at $295 billion. This level is in excess of what the President has supported and veto treats hang over the Senate passed bill. Following is a summary of the amendments under consideration.
The next step for this legislation is a conference between the House and Senate. It is possible that conferees would be named this week as well as a possible first conference meeting next week. That said, it is more likely that rule changes over judicial nominations preoccupies a great deal of the Senate’s time this week.
As soon as the conferees are named, there will immediately be a dispute over which body will chair the conference. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Inhofe has asserted that it will be again be the Senate’s conference. His justification centers around a deal between the House and Senate on who would chair TEA 21’s conference. Then House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster was able to chair TEA 21’s conference and made agreements on subsequent conferences. The House believes they should chair the conference based on the following two reasons. First, they believe this Congress can’t be bound by old agreements and that the highway bill should go forward on regular order (like the energy and other significant bills). Secondly, they contend that any previous deal has already been fulfilled.
Once the conference chair is established, the first major hurdle will be to decide on an overall funding level. Since we again find ourselves with a funding level dispute between the House and Senate, they will have to work to address that difference. It will need to be solved because of the veto threat and a process desire of the Senate to resolve the overall funding level first. The Senate contends that it is difficult to have a policy debate when you don’t know the funding level for each program. Hopefully, they can find resolution prior to the Memorial Day recess. If they don’t, staff will likely be unable to show much progress while the members are in their districts for the recess.
The funding level is likely one of the largest sticking points on this conference and will undoubtedly take time to resolve. Thus making another extension, the seventh, necessary to carry funding past May 31st. It will be possible to resolve the remaining policy differences in a matter of weeks, making completion prior to the July 4th recess possible.