LaHood: Politics Means No Surface Transportation Bill This Year

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood doesn't think there's much chance Congress will pass a surface transportation spending bill this year.

The bill is on its way to being three years late -- it was supposed to be reauthorized in September, 2009.

"Given the politics, the number of days that remain, the differences between what the Senate and House are looking at -- I think its very unlikely we will have a surface transportation bill during this year of Congress," LaHood told a gathering of transportation professionals at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting.

"When you look at the number of days that Congress will be in session -- it is limited.  Given the political atmosphere that is around us now with presidential politics and every member of Congress seeking reelection in November that obviously will play into what happens."

LaHood told reporters after the panel that another big obstacle is the differences between the two-year Senate bill and the five-year House bill, which as of yet has no "pay-fors." "I think the difference between a two-year bill and a five-year bill is a pretty big gulf to overcome particually given the number of legilsative days," LaHood said.

But his remarks seemed to take his own top aides by surprise.

"I didn't hear him say we're not going to have a reauthorization bill this year," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, who was in the audience and left with Secretary LaHood.. "I'm an optimist, the real way we are going to put people to work the fastest and make progress on all these policies, is by getting a reauthorization bill as soon as possible."

LaHood's comments came at a panel of transportation secretaries going back to Alan Boyd, who was Lyndon B. Johnson's transportation secretary.  The moderator asked the secretaries if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future of transportation funding.

“I’m hopeful but I’m very concerned," said Boyd, who went first, "because it seems to me looking and listening as I do now from my vantage point in Seattle so many of my fellow Americans want to have good roads, good bridges, but they don’t want to pay for it, they want somebody else to pay for it. There is this sense to me  around the country: no new taxes.  The world keeps changing and if America is going to be the leader it says it is and wants to be its got to improve its infrastructure. "

(LaHood did express optimism about the future of high speed rail -- that story here.)