Updated: April 17, 2012 8:16AM
The U.S. Senate just delivered a gift to the House: A bipartisan transportation bill at a time when America really could use a lift.
Here’s hoping the House Republicans don’t mess it up.
The Senate on Wednesday passed a two-year transportation bill that would pump $109 billion into the economy by investing in roads, bridge and mass transit projects. Passage came after the House failed miserably to pass its own transportation legislation, falling short in what historically has been an easy bipartisan win.
When it returns next week, the House should move quickly to take up the Senate measure, which passed 74 to 22, a huge margin in these partisan times. The Senate bill isn’t perfect, particularly its short two-year timetable, but it protects vital investments, preserves local control and begins to streamline a cumbersome bureaucracy. We have little confidence the House Republican leadership, under the grip of its more intransigent Tea Party wing, can come up with anything better. So far, they’ve only proposed far worse.
Normally, Congress reauthorizes a transportation bill every four to six years. But this time reauthorization is nearly two years delayed. And if Congress doesn’t act by March 31, the nation’s gasoline tax, the main funding source for transportation projects, is set to expire.
The original House version was utterly unacceptable. Thankfully, the House leadership got the message. In its first iteration, they tried to end guaranteed funding for mass transit. That idea was scuttled in part because three Illinois congressmen — Robert Dold (R), Dan Lipinski (D) and Judy Biggert (R) — spoke up against it.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner tells us that “the hope is that the House can coalesce around a more responsible, longer-term extension” of the transportation bill. “If we’re unable to do that,” spokesman Michael Steel said, “we would consider the Senate bill.”
Here’s another idea: Skip Plan A and move right to the Senate bill.