Last night news broke of a Senate agreement to finally move on the long-delayed surface transportation funding bill. This is good news – hopefully we have broken through the logjam and have a chance to finally fix and modernize our deteriorating transit and rail systems and roads and bridges, and put people to work.
With this deal by Senate Democrats and Republicans, the work now begins on dozens of amendments, many of them unrelated to transportation. But hopefully the Senate will dispose of the worst proposals offered, such as the Portman-Coburn amendment that would destroy our highway and transit system as we know it.
We also are pushing to pass a proposal by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that for most Americans is a no-brainer: strengthen Buy America requirements as America spends billions on transportation projects. We’ll find out quickly which Senators think it is okay to use America’s transportation resources to boost China’s economy. And it is time for lawmakers in the Senate and in the other chamber to stop using federal workers’ pensions as a piggy bank to pay for this bill.
Notwithstanding some of the bad policy ideas being debated, it seems Senate Democrats and Republicans have found a better path forward. House leaders pay close attention: Senators have recognized that when you have the U.S. Chamber, the labor movement, community non-profits, retailers and local religious and civil rights activists—just to name a few—pushing for a bill, a deal must get done.
It is time for the House to choose the same path forward. Strip H.R. 7 of the ideological attacks on working people included in the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee bill. And also, restore the mass transit funding guarantees that have been a part of this program for almost 30 years. Accomplish this, and the bill could pass with a comfortable majority.
Our hope is that the House Leadership will see the bigger picture—that the surface transportation bill is bigger than party politics. Veterans need reliable transit services to travel to medical facilities. Businesses need their commuting employees to have affordable and reliable transportation choices. Transit systems are being forced to raise fares and slash services and jobs at a time when they are in highest demand. Our bridges, literally, are at risk of falling down. And millions of workers across our entire economy – from transportation and construction to manufacturing and along the entire supply chain—all need these investments to get off the unemployment lines.
Moving ideological legislation that dies in partisan gridlock in Washington helps no one. Passing a bill that can be accepted on both sides of the aisle is good for the country. There is now hope that the Senate can show us a path forward – let us hope this is the green light the House needs to clear a similar bill.
—Edward Wytkind, president