The group of lawmakers will start meeting on May 8th to hammer out a consensus transportation bill. Everyone states they are ready to work—but they have quite a job in front of them.
Going forward, biking and walking will likely become a sticking point in conference negotiations.
Continue reading for an analysis of what's next.
The House has appointed 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats from the four relevant Committees, with the lion's share coming from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica (FL-7) will chair the House conferees.
Interestingly, the Republican list includes 8 freshman lawmakers and no senior leadership. It is thought that the freshmen are present to help build support for a conferenced bill within the entire Republican caucus.
While two of the co-sponsors of the Petri Amendment are on the House conference committee, neither are representatives of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The two cosponsors, Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-3), both support the Petri Amendment to restore dedicated funding for biking and walking.
On the conference committee, though, Blumenauer represents the Ways and Means Committee and Johnson represents the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Because neither is on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, they might not be allowed to work on the portions of the bill related to biking and walking.
The Senate took a more inclusive view in naming transportation conferees. It is expected that their 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans will be able to weigh in on the entire bill. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (CA) will chair the conference committee for the Senate.
Biking and Walking, Environment Will Be Key Issues
We will certainly see major controversy about environmental concerns in this bill. House negotiators will push for the Keystone Pipeline's construction, while Senate Majority Leader Reid (NV) and Senate conferee Rockefeller (WV) have publicly denouced Keystone. The coal ash provision and environmental streamlining provisions are also controversial.
If House Republicans make concessions on these environmental issues, they will demand major concessions from the Senate on other issues—and biking and walking could take a hit.
Local control over biking and walking projects may be threatened. During Senate negotiations on MAP-21, Senate leaders added the bipartisan Cardin-Cochran agreement in order to give local governments a voice in transportation decisions. The provision ensures that local governments, school systems, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are able to access much-needed funds to make bicycling and walking safe and accessible.
Cardin-Cochran is one of the topics that will be on the table.
Congress has shown unusual haste in arranging for a transportation conference. Conference meetings will begin on May 8, immediately after lawmakers return to Washington from recess. Conferees from both chambers are meeting today with their own party representatives report that staff will start working as soon as possible to identify areas of agreement...and disagreement.
Looking ahead, June 30th—the expiration date for the current extension—will be a deadline for either a completed conference or another extension show-down. The House has passed a 90-day extension, but it includes environmental provisions unfavorable to the Senate majority (like the Keystone Pipeline). This "dirty" extension will almost definitely fail in the Senate.
If Congress does not produce a conferenced transportation bill by the end of June, we could see another down-to-the-wire extension debate.
If Congress decides on another extension rather than a new long-term bill, negotiations on a new bill may stretch into the Lame Duck session.