The surface transportation conference committee commenced its first meeting yesterday, with Senate and House conferees taking the opportunity to give opening remarks on what is anticipated to be one of the final hurdles in passing a transportation bill.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), author of MAP-21 (S. 1813) and chair of the conference committee, began the meeting with a statement highlighting the bipartisan Senate bill. Sen. Boxer stressed that “failure is not an option” and implored members to act quickly in hashing out compromise legislation, setting a target of early June for a deal to be struck. She was followed by Representative John Mica (R-FL), selected as vice-chair of the conference, who also stressed the economic importance of a bill.
The issues of Keystone XL, funding and financing options, an amendment stripping EPA of regulatory power over coal ash, and House language streamlining environmental policy still remained the most important issues needing compromise. However, it did appear during many of the remarks there existed support for the RESTORE Act, Senate TIFIA language, as well as the RAMP Act. The RESTORE Act would direct fines from oil companies responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill to Gulf Coast restoration and clean-up efforts, and the RAMP Act would ensure revenue in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be dedicated and used solely for harbor maintenance programs.
The general feeling throughout the opening statements was far less acrimonious than the House Transportation and Infrastructure markup of H.R. 7, which saw lawmakers bicker over amendments into the early hours of the morning this past February. Throughout the opening statements, the majority of lawmakers around the table stressed how critical it was to work quickly to get this done and how vital a bill is to job creation, with both sides stressing the need to work for the American people. One memorable line came from Representative Nick Rahall, the ranking minority member on the House T&I committee – “we cannot let hard heads get in the way of hard hats”.