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Election Day Politics Hold Up Federal Transportation Bill
Conference committee appointed to work out differences in House and Senate visions of transportation funding.

Speaker Boehner with conferees, 4/25/12
US House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) yesterday appointed members to the conference committee that will attempt to work out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation funding federal transportation and transit programs. Agreement is unlikely. The US Senate on Tuesday appointed its members while unanimously replacing the entire text of the House transportation measure with the Senate's language.

"I am pleased that Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have once again shown the bipartisan approach that the Senate has demonstrated with our surface transportation bill, MAP-21," Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-California) said in a statement.

Boxer has the support of the top Republican on the committee, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), on a transportation measure that spends 25 percent more than the House bill on an annual basis. MAP-21 also boosts subsidies for mass transit and offers a mixed bag for supporters and opponents of tolling. On the House side, the Republican majority is proud of taking a more economical approach.

"This bill contains no tax increases, earmarks, or new federal government programs, which may disappoint Democrats, but this legislation will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate," House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Florida) said.

Mica's legislation would significantly reduce the diversion of gas tax funds toward projects that benefit non-drivers. It would also include a provision reversing President Obama's decision to block the Keystone pipeline, a project that supporters say would create 20,000 jobs and lower the price of gasoline. Boehner highlighted the veto-proof, bipartisan majority by which the provision passed the House.

Despite the agreement on the controversial private-sector project, the House has resorted to passing ninety-day extensions of the highway authorization measure because around sixty Republicans believe the more modest House bill still spends far too much. Democrats are also infuriated by cuts to spending on trolleys, trains and subways. The impasse is unlikely be resolved, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who wants the House to pass the Democratic Senate's bill.

"You don't need those sixty do-nothing Republicans," LaHood said at a Politico event last week. "They have the votes to do it... They don't want to do it because of politics. There will not be a bill before the election."

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