Senate Democrats push for new multi-year highway bill

Senate Democrats joined construction and industry representatives Tuesday to urge Senate Republicans to complete work on a multi-year transportation bill before the impending July 31 expiration of the latest temporary funding extension for the Highway Trust Fund.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, flanked by Democratic leaders in the four transportation-related Senate committees, said Democrats will not support another temporary extension of the HTF when the current two-month bill expires in six weeks and he called on Republican leaders to develop their own plans for a multi-year transportation program that includes increased funding to pay for tens of thousands of infrastructure projects.

“We do not want another short-term extension of this bill,” said the Nevada Democrat during a news conference in the Capitol.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats called on Republicans to come up with an alternative to the six-year, $478 billion infrastructure plan and tax on U.S. companies’ overseas earnings proposed by President Obama, which was widely panned by Republicans.

“This Congress should be considering the President’s framework as a starting point for bipartisan negotiations,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, which organized Tuesday’s event.

Schumer called on Republican leaders to hold hearings in the four key Senate committees to set new multi-year highway legislation and to draft bills that would be passed by each committee by July 10, so that a long-term funding bill could be voted on by the full Senate by July 20. Short-term funding extensions will not allow states and local governments to make long-term infrastructure plans, said Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin.

Senate Republicans are expected to take up legislation passed in the Republican-controlled House that would provide $55.3 billion for one year of transportation funding and would fund the Highway Trust Fund for another 12 months.

A spokesman for Majority Leader McConnell told TI News Daily that Republicans also want a multi-year bill passed before the July 31 HTF expiration and are working in the Senate committees toward meeting that goal. “So today’s partisan press conference was for partisan purposes,” he said.

The Senate Democrats were joined by labor and industry officials at Tuesday’s event, including representatives from the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED), the Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition lobbying for infrastructure funding, AAA, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union.

Speaking on behalf of AED was former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who warned of dire consequences if Congress fails to pass a new transportation bill.

“The uncertainty of not having this bill,” said the former Democratic governor, “means delays in the plans that many people in this nation would make to do the training, to do the construction, to do the investment that many other people in the economy would make. We need to do this. We need to do this now. I don’t think it’s a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is an American issue.”

Romer, now a multi-state John Deere dealer, added, “America is asking you to take leadership to help us invest for the benefit of our families in the next century.”