June 5, 2012 / 9:02 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. highway bill talks skid into critical month

 * June 30 deadline for transportation spending bill
 * Senators Boxer, Inhofe give new proposal to House
 * Proposal sidesteps Keystone pipeline issue
 By Roberta Rampton	
 WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - With a deadline approaching
for a massive U.S. spending bill for roads, bridges and rail
projects, Senate and House negotiators have not yet addressed
the 1,700-mile-long elephant in the room - whether to fast-track
the Keystone oil pipeline as part of the plan.	
 After four weeks of discussions, Senate negotiators
delivered a proposal to their House counterparts on Tuesday on
core transportation issues, still hoping to meet a June 30
deadline to forge a new transportation bill.	
 "We have presented an offer to our House counterparts, and
it's an offer that reflects their wishes," Democratic Senator
Barbara Boxer told reporters.	
 But the plan, which addresses House concerns about a
two-year, $106 billion transportation bill passed by the Senate,
sidestepped the House proposal to include in the package
approval for TransCanada's $7 billion Canada-to-Texas
pipeline. Pres ident Barack Obama is opposed to any move to
fast-track the pipeline until new environmental reviews are
completed.	
 "We haven't taken that up yet," said Boxer, who is leading
the talks.	
 Giving few details about what the proposal contained, Boxer
and Republican Senator James Inhofe said they are optimistic the
document would advance talks.	
 Inhofe said talks with House Republicans were "amiable" and
downplayed reports of an impasse.	
 "The (House Republicans) I've talked to are very receptive.
Everybody wants a bill. I do too," Inhofe told reporters.	
	
 	
 "MICROCOSM" OF SPENDING FIGHT	
 A stop-gap law authorizing highway spending expires on June
30. That means the panel needs to find a compromise soon to give
the full House and Senate enough time to pass the deal and get
it to Obama for his signature.	
 It is more likely that Congress will pass another short-term
measure to keep funding at current levels than agree to the
two-year plan, Guggenheim Partners' senior policy analyst Chris
Krueger said in a note to clients.	
 "The Highway Bill has become a microcosm of the broader
spending fight in Congress, much to the detriment of a bill that
was once the pinnacle of bipartisanship," Krueger said.	
 A new extension could expire July 31, although that probably
would not give lawmakers enough time to find a deal, he said,
noting an extension to Sept. 30 is more likely.	
 Congress must agree to highway spending soon, because the
government currently spends more on highways than it raises in
gasoline taxes collected for the Highway Trust Fund.	
 The fund will run out of money sometime in the fiscal year
beginning Oct. 1, the government has projected.	
 	
 HIGHWAY GROUPS CONCERNED	
 Lawmakers from both parties pointed to the rising U.S.
unemployment rate as evidence of the need to reach a deal.	
 Unemployment in the construction agency is at 14.2 percent,
well above overall unemployment at 8.3 percent, a coalition of
construction and contracting trade groups and state highway
officials told lawmakers in a letter.	
 "We are deeply concerned about reports that suggest that
progress is not being made in conference negotiations that will
lead to completion of work by June 30," the coalition said.	
 Republicans said the report gives leverage for their
Keystone demands, because constructing the pipeline would create
thousands of jobs at no cost to taxpayers. Environmental groups
have argued job creation claims for the project are overstated.	
 Obama put the pipeline on hold earlier this year, citing the
need to complete additional environmental reviews, and the White
House has said Obama would veto a bill that sought to overturn
his decision.	
 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he has
heard that House Republican Leader Eric Cantor wants the bill to
fail, adding pressure on the economy ahead of the November
elections, a scenario that could boost votes for Republicans.	
 "You have heard as I've heard, that there's a battle going
on between Cantor and (House Speaker John) Boehner as to whether
or not there should be a bill," Reid said.	
 "That's bullshit," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for
Boehner. "House Republicans are united in our desire to get a
sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including
job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone."	
 Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for Cantor, called Reid's claims
"ridiculous and patently false," noting Cantor has said he hopes
the conference will reach a deal by the end of June, and said
the House will work to ensure highway programs are not shut down
for lack of funding.	
	
 (Additional reporting by David Lawder and Tom Ferraro, Editing
by Leslie Gevirtz)	
 

0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below