Voinovich Joins House Dems in Saying No to Transpo Funding Stopgap

Voinovich_to_bow_out_at_end_of_term.jpgSen. George Voinovich (R-OH) allied with House Democrats today. (Photo: UPI)

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will move
tomorrow on a White House-backed extension of the four-year-old federal
transportation law, but at least one of its members is already opposed.

George Voinovich (R-OH) linked arms with House Democratic leaders on the transportation panel this morning to continue lashing
the Obama administration for "blowing this golden opportunity," as the
senator put it, to pass new transportation legislation this year.

"There is no need to talk extension of time," House transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) told reporters.

"This is an
administration that came in promising change. Instead, they’re talking
the same old thing."

Oberstar also pushed back at the charge
made by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that Congress must plug a
hole in the nation’s highway trust fund before leaving for a month-long
August recess.

The trust fund can stay intact, he asserted,
until the end of September, when the 2005 federal transport law is now
set to expire.

Hours after Oberstar spoke, however, LaHood
reiterated that congressional inaction on the trust fund this month
would be "completely unfair" to states. The Senate environment panel’s
chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), concurred that the trust fund’s
financial state risks undercutting broader transportation reform.

"We 
really have an issue on our hands that we can’t resolve under the
threat of the trust fund going broke," Boxer said today at a
transportation hearing in her committee.

Ultimately, Voinovich’s alliance is unlikely to change the game of political chicken that developed
last month — with the Senate accepting the White House’s plans for an
18-month extension and the House insisting that its six-year, $500
billion transportation measure should go forward without an agreed-upon revenue source.

Yet
there is the potential for two heavyweights to intercede and help end
the impasse: the business lobby and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Business interests, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have launched a group
called Americans for Transportation Mobility to push for quick
enactment of a new transportation bill. With high-profile Capitol Hill media placement and a lobbying fly-in tomorrow, the Chamber could use its political muscle to move more support to Oberstar’s side.

Pelosi, meanwhile, suggested on Thursday
that she’s already backing her transportation committee chief. And
Oberstar reiterated that today, telling reporters that "we have the
support of House leadership" in fighting the Obama administration’s
plans.

Another X factor in the transportation debate as the
August recess approaches is where the White House plans to find $20
billion for its proposed extension. When pressed on the matter today,
LaHood said the Office of Management and Budget is "working on that
right now."

No matter what, tomorrow’s Senate debate on the
extension won’t be the last word. The Senate Finance Committee is
required to sign off on a funding source for the trust fund rescue
before it can pass the upper chamber of Congress.

Late Update: Roll Call reports
this afternoon that Boxer, even as she takes up an 18-month extension,
is hedging her bets by asking fellow senators to submit earmark
requests for local projects that might be included in a long-term
transportation bill.

In a letter to staffers obtained by the
newspaper, Boxer’s office stated, “We anticipate a clean extension [but
would] like to be
prepared for all possibilities. With that in mind, Senator Boxer wants
to know your boss’ top priority projects.”

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