Oberstar: I will not support an extension of SAFETEA-LUJune 4, 2009
By Stephen Lee Davis
Rep. James Obertsar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Congressional Quarterly this week that he will not pass an extension of the federal transportation bill if the new bill is not finished when the current law (SAFETEA-LU) expires on Sept. 30. (From today’s print edition. Not publicly linkable)
Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., said in an interview that he will not sponsor or support an extension of surface transportation programs if a new long-term authorization bill cannot be completed by the Sept. 30 deadline.
Instead, Oberstar said late Tuesday, he would allow the programs to expire, and lawmakers would have to answer to states that lose their federal transportation support. “It all dies,” Oberstar said.
That threat may be hard to sustain, particularly given the importance of infrastructure spending to create jobs during the current economic recession. Democratic leaders in both chambers would have the final say on the matter.
During the last big battle over federal transportation legislation — which started in 2003 and didn’t end until the bill was signed in August of 2005 — 12 different extensions were filed as lawmakers struggled to write and agree on language for our current transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU.
The extensions on the bill allowed Congress to continue funding surface transportation projects, even as policy for the next five years was being hammered out. Needless to say, things would not be looking good for our transportation system if this Congress couldn’t pass a new bill by September 30 and refused to extend the existing legislation
Ultimately, the House will have to wait on the Senate to pass their own version of the transportation bill, where four separate committees have jurisdiction over different parts of the bill, and early indications are that the Senate may push the work back until 2010.
On top of that, Charles Rangel, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — which will be in charge of finance on the new transportation bill — has already stated that transportation is not at the top of his committee’s list of issues.
Will Oberstar’s claim bear out? One thing is certain. While House leadership may eventually put pressure on him to pass an extension, the current transportation bill cannot be extended without going through his committee.