Come Together, Right Now, Over Bill

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers is taking what I think will become a pretty popular position on the House’s HR7 reauthorization bill, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (AEIJA), just passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It’s now with the Ways and Means Committee where sudden enlightenment on how to pay for it is expected.

Both the House and Senate now have bills moving along nicely at an increasingly rapid pace. They are both heavy on valuable, needed reforms, but they disagree on the length of the bill, the amount of funding involved and where to find the difference between what the ailing Highway Trust Fund brings in and the total number of dollars written into the bill.

Talking to AEM President Dennis Slater today he reveals that the best short-term scenario he sees as both bills move ahead is to get the House and Senate into a conference as soon as  possible to work out their differences. The thinking seems to be that there’s not much to be done to the bills in their respective houses that hasn’t already been done, or, worse, won’t create some sort of blockage or reversal. Neither bill is being joyously received but why risk losing what looks like it’s at least not a bad deal for the industry and could be a lot worse.I mean there could be no bills, just extensions, or bills that are woefully underfunded instead of just being underfunded.

Given that there is broad agreement on both the need for a bipartisan bill and for the reforms addressed in both bills, you have a reasonable (for these times) foundation. And while the term of the bill and the amount and source of funding will be fiercely debated, a conference committee may be far enough down the legislative road to be the one place they might actually finalize something. Perhaps a case of ‘the buck stops here’ so we have little choice but to do something.

There is, also, the need for both parties to take some positive momentum into the election. As AEM, and others, say, there are no political potholes. You don’t want to be the guys in the conference voting for bad roads. So we lock both sides from both houses in a room and wait outside with the key, ignoring any pleas to open the door.

Here’s another thought – from me not AEM. Transportation Secretary La Hood has royally blasted AEIJA, saying “It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.” If something of it survives a Senate/House conference and features in the final bill, will his boss be in a tight spot when it hits his desk in the pre-election months?