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Senate, House Expected to Vote on Highway Bills

2/10/2012 12:00:00 PM
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The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are expected to vote as early as next week on their long-awaited transportation reauthorization bills.

Both bills have cleared all the necessary committee hurdles and both call for more than $41 billion annually in highway spending.

The Senate’s $109 billion bill is a two-year bipartisan proposal that on Thursday survived a test vote of 85-11 on a measure that limits debate to 30 hours and prevents a filibuster of the bill.

The Senate bill also has the support of the Obama Administration.

In an effort to build bipartisan backing, from the start of their deliberations last year, the bill’s sponsors, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), agreed not to include anything controversial in the measure.

The bill contains no new taxes, no changes to rail programs, and does not address truck weights or lengths, although it would mandate electronic onboard recorders for trucks.

However, the House’s five-year, $260-billion reauthorization bill has ignited intense partisan wrangling because the measure would cut off fuel-tax revenue for public transit, expand oil drilling offshore and in Alaska, require approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and reduce retirement benefits for federal workers to help pay for transportation.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said the provisions are so controversial they could sink efforts to pass a reauthorization bill this year.

The nation’s transportation system is currently being funded by the eighth temporary extension since the previous reauthorization bill expired in 2009.

Meantime, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica is calling his bill the biggest transportation reform measure since the Interstate Highway System was created.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves urged leaders in Congress to seek common ground.

“We’ve been operating under a series of extensions for more than 30 months,� Graves said, “so it is long past time that we set aside partisan and parochial turf wars and come together on a well-funded, multiyear highway bill.�

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