After some 30 different versions during the course of President Barack Obama’s two terms, the dysfunctional U.S. Congress continues to be unable to agree on major transportation legislation.
The Senate agreed to House demands that only a short-term extension of the highway program be authorized before members left Washington for their summer vacations — officially known as a “district work period.”
That leaves, again, the nation’s state highway departments in limbo.
The good news about the extension is that highways and mass transit projects could have been delayed had there not been something done while the legislators deliberate.
What would be a better outcome? That would be a six-year bill, typical before today’s acrid partisanship, that would allow long-term projects such as highway building to be matched with long-term funding sources.
The Senate has tried to put forward a bill that would meet that goal, and both of Louisiana’s senators — although objecting to some provisions in the measure — joined in the 65-34 majority that passed it. The White House also wants a long-term bill. Yet the House balked at some of the provisions, leading to the extension.
We shall not rehash the issues that have snarled what used to be a generally bipartisan cause — improving the nation’s infrastructure. There are some provisions unrelated to highways in the Senate bill, such as renewal of the trade-promoting Export-Import Bank, and the Senate bill includes more of the budgetary gimmicks that have been used instead of straightforward tax increases to pay for projects.
Nor is the Senate measure really a six-year bill because the various budget gimmicks don’t guarantee funding for more than three years.
It’s a measure of Congress’ failure that this is considered an accomplishment today.
We hope that senators and House members will again focus on the real issue here, which is that America’s infrastructure crumbles while the parties feud. There should be bipartisan agreement on investing in big projects such as building highways and laying track across the country, rebuilding aging bridges and providing faster connections for people and freight.
That is a profound economic interest for every American, but it is of particular importance to Louisiana right now. Why? With the widening of the Panama Canal and the potential of trade with Cuba, the ports of the Mississippi River need the road and rail connections that will move cargo efficiently. Our state is only one affected by the failure to agree on a transportation bill, but the lack of certainty affects us during this time of transition in the Gulf Coast.
We urge Congress to pass a six-year transportation bill, fully funded with real money. That’s in the long-term interest of the nation and Louisiana.