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The Hill: Federal Transportation Bills Find Bipartisan Support

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Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper.

Commuters in our area are well aware of the need for transportation funding. Roads, bridges and rails need to be maintained, if not upgraded, and there are several new projects on the horizon. Much of that depends on federal transportation funding, which has been stuck in Congressional negotiations. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper, discusses the apparent movement on a transportation authorization bill this week.

What's the latest on surface transportation authorization?

The Senate and House are both getting ready to move multi-year transportation authorization bills. In the Senate, there is a two-year authorization bill. It would be the first multi-year transportation bill passed since 2005. That two-year bill is being marked up right now in the Senate Finance Committee, which is tasked with finding ways to pay for it. That has been the hold-up in the Senate -- finding out how to pay for this $109 billion bill.

To what extent is there bipartisan support for this?

"The notable thing about this bill is that it does have bipartisan support. It passed out of the Environment and Public Works committee unanimously. Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate's most liberal members has teamed up with Jim Inhofe, one of the Senate's most conservative members, to advance this bill. The only disagreement is how to pay for it. There has been a lot of negotiations behind the scenes about coming up with pay-fors and it seems that the Finance Committee is very close to coming up with something, and it's holding the mark-up today."

"The snag, however, is that conservative groups are urging Republican Senators to vote against it in the Finance Committee. So the test for this bill will be how many Republicans vote yes and how many vote no in this mark-up."

What's the story in the House?

In the House, the chairman of the Transportation Committee is moving a five-year $260 billion bill. It's longer and much more expensive than the Senate bill. He has found a novel way to pay for it, which is through oil drilling. He would expand oil drilling and use the revenues to pay for these transportation costs. That's posing a problem though, because it will cost the legislation Democratic votes. Some conservatives are also concerned about the size of the bill. It remains to be seen whether the Republican leadership will be able to get enough votes to get this out of the House.

Do you see a path forward to get a plan to the President's desk?

It's difficult, but because it has bipartisan support in the Senate. It's expected to pass the chamber, which would give it a fair amount of momentum, just because it's so rare to find an issue with bipartisan support. So if it does pass with bipartisan support, that will give the bill quite a bit of momentum into a Senate-House conference, assuming the House can get their bill to the conference, then we are much closer to getting legislation to the President's desk.

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