Yesterday, the joint House & Senate conference committee on the surface transportation authorization legislation met in what will likely be its only public meeting before the looming December 4 deadline to finalize work on a bill. The conference committee chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) kicked-off the meeting by stating, “There is plenty of common ground between the [House & Senate] proposals to allow us to reach an agreement that both [chambers] can willingly support.” The lead House Democrat on the committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), underscored the importance of achieving an increase in overall funding in the final bill. “I’m hopeful to get higher levels of spending on an annual basis and if funds are so limited that we have to reduce the term of the bill, it’s an option I think should be looked at,” said DeFazio.
The committee announced a timetable to final action on a bill, which includes finalizing the conference agreement by November 30 and having a House vote on the bill by the December 4 deadline. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will be able to act before the December 4 target or if they will need a week extension to approve the legislation and present it to President Obama for his signature. Either way, all members of the committee seem hopeful that a final agreement will be reached very soon and that they can craft a measure that will receive the necessary votes in both the House and Senate to be signed by the president.
ASCE, along with other groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, believes a five-year program that includes significant funding increases, rather than a six-year bill that only maintains the status quo, should be the final goal of the conference committee. That sort of legislative package will help create jobs and grow the economy in the years ahead.