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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D Nv)

Transportation Nation

Progress? Transportation Bill Shows a Pulse

Thursday, June 21, 2012

(UPDATED WITH SENATOR BOXER'S COMMENTS) The surface transportation bill appears to have been removed from life support and may be on the mend.

Positive statements are emanating all over the Capitol about House-Senate negotiations over surface transportation legislation. It was only days ago lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were pronouncing the deal dead and predicting another extension.

“The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill. Both House and Senate conferees will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week,” reads a joint statement issued by chief negotiators Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)

Speaking in the hallway of the Senate building Thursday afternoon, Boxer said the House and Senate are working cooperatively -- and getting along better than they were two weeks ago. "We are really finishing up our work," she said. "If all goes the way it's going now, we  should be through with most of the bill very soon, and then w'ell tackle the outstanding issues. I'm ... quite optimistic."

She added: "We'll be working over the weekend." (Listen to her comments below.)

"Significant progress is being made," Reid said. "We're certainly in better shape than we were 24 hours ago."

Of course, none of this necessarily means the conference will reach agreement. Lawmakers remain at odds over policy issues like environmental reviews for construction projects and so-called transportation "enhancement" projects like bike lanes and medians--not to mention political issues like a Republican bid to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and a repeal of EPA coal ash regulations.

If no agreement is reached by June 30th, the government's authority to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund expires.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Moves to Shake up Transportation Conference Amid Hill Sniping

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

Senate negotiators tried to break an impasse with House Republicans over a surface transportation bill Tuesday, thought the proffer did little to quell a cross-Capitol war of words.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate-House conference committee trying to reach a transportation bill deal, told reporters she and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent the deal toward the house earlier in the day. Boxer said the offer was "very warmly received" but also acknowledged it skirted contentious political issues including building the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and gutting new coal ash regs from the EPA.

Boxer dismissed reports from earlier in the day suggesting the conference was near collapse, and that another temporary extension would be needed to keep highway funding going past a June 30 deadline.

A spokesman for conference vice-chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "we will take a look at the proposal and discuss it with our conferees." It was a noncommittal response skirting the obvious: Time is running short to get a deal by the end of the month, and House conservatives are dead against agreeing to a transportation deal that doesn't go over President Barack Obama's head and force approval of the Keystone pipeline.

"We're going back and forth on all that stuff. I think in the final analysis it all has to be in there," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a Republican negotiator. On Boxer and Inhofe's offer, Hoeven said, "Let's just say we're still working on it."

Those issues could still be worked out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to be helping quiet talk of a faltering conference Tuesday afternoon. Asked it negotiations were falling apart, Reid said, "I don't have any dire statement to give."

But then things got heated. "There's a battle going on between (House Speaker John) Boehner and (House GOP Leader Eric) Cantor as to whether or not there should be a bill," Reid told reporters. "Cantor, of course, I'm told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that's better for them. I hope that that's not true," Reid continued.

The statement elicited swift and sharp reactions from House GOP leaders.

“Leader Reid’s claims are ridiculous and patently false.  Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work,” read a statement from a Cantor spokesperson.

Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel was less diplomatic about Reid's comments. “That’s bullshit.  House Republicans are united in our desire to get a sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone.”

Aides to Reid did not clarify his statement. But one aide described Senate Democrats as "not pessimistic" about the chances of an agreement by June 30.

Earlier, Boxer said that issues outside the Senate offer, including Keystone, coal ash regulations, and financing changes, would have to be "worked out later."

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Highway Bill Could Be Headed for a Standoff

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

People with a stake in the billions of dollars worth of highway funds and gas taxes may have breathed a temporary sigh of relief a few hours ago when Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica said the GOP would opt for a temporary extension next week.

Not so fast.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he's not interested in putting a temporary extension of the Highway bill on the Senate floor if the House passes one next week, given that the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion version of its own last week with 74 votes.

The current Highway bill extension runs out March 31. That means the Senate can keep the program going by passing the House's temporary extension, which will likely include a motion to go to conference with the Senate.

"I'm not inclined to do that," Reid told reporters Tuesday.

If Reid sticks to his guns, that leaves Option Two: Force the House to swallow the Senate's two-year bill or, Option Three: Risk being held responsible for a shutdown reminiscent of last summer's Federal Aviation Administration shutdown fiasco.

Time is running short, and House Republicans have already said they won't try for a version of their 5-year bill before the Easter recess. "There's plenty of time for the House to pass our bill," a Senate Democratic leadership aid says.

The aide wouldn't go so far as to close down all possibilities of a temporary extension as House Republicans now want. But the tough talk has started, and along with it a game of chicken with a March 31 deadline.

"The House had their chance, and they blew it," the aide said.

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Transportation Nation

Boehner: We'll Work with Senate if GOP Balks on Highway Bill

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Speaker John Boehner (House Photo)

The Senate's transportation bill bill may be the last game in town.

House Republicans leaders have been struggling for weeks to drum up enough support in their own ranks to pass a 5-year bill. Now, faced with a ticking clock on an expiring law, they may be forced to align instead with a bipartisan alternative now on the Senate floor.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Thursday that the GOP's bill still doesn't have the votes it needs to come to the floor and pass. That's despite last-ditch pleas from Republican leaders this week, warning members that the bill might be their last chance to put a conservative stamp on a debate that must ultimately include the Senate and President Obama.

"At this point in time the plan is to bring up the Senate bill, or something like it," Boehner told reporters. He added that talks continue over the 5-year bill, priced originally at $260 billion. Boehner said a longer-term bill is one "most of our members want.'

But getting enough of them to agree to how to do it, and where to find the money to pay for it has proved another matter. And House Democrats have kept the effort at arm's length.

Meanwhile, the Senate began voting on amendments to its own 2-year, $109 billion bill Thursday, though none was directly related to transportation policy. The most high profile vote killed a GOP effort to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Boehner's comments "a big step forward" in getting final agreement on a bill.  Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who handles political strategy and messaging for Senate Democrats, said Democrats and Republicans could reach a bipartisan deal on the bill and urged Republicans not to "muck it up."

The Senate is set to continue voting on transportation amendments next Tuesday.

 

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Transportation Nation

Here We Go: Senate Set to Start Highway Bill Votes Thursday

Thursday, March 08, 2012

After weeks of behind-the-scenes brinksmanship, the Senate is finally set to begin casting votes on its highway and infrastructure bill Thursday.

Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement late Wednesday on a list of 30 amendments to the two-year, $109 billion transportation bill. Senate aides said they expect the body to begin voting in the morning Thursday and continue throughout the day, a marathon voting session known around the Senate as a "vote-a-rama."

"We can finish this tomorrow. It's a huge job," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said while announcing the agreement on Wednesday night on the Senate floor. Democratic aides later clarified that the amendment list was long enough that a vote on final approval of the highway bill would likely get pushed to next Tuesday.

The Senate won't vote on substantive transportation amendments right away. A list of controversial amendments on unrelated issues is due up first, including expansions in offshore drilling, boiler regulations, offshore tax havens and lowering of corporate tax rates. The Senate is also set to vote on a pair of amendments pushing the Obama Administration on its politically-charged decision to delay construction of parts of the Keystone XL pipeline.

After that, substantive, or "germain" amendments are set to follow on a range of transportation issues, including toll road rules, bridge construction and an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would do away with a ban on restaurants at interstate rest stops.

Final passage Tuesday would see the Senate approve its version of the highway bill while the House is out of town on a week-long recess with its own version of the bill very much in doubt. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a last-ditch effort Wednesday to sell skeptical conservatives on a version of a five-year, $260 billion highway bill. The Senate's bill, which is bipartisan but unpopular with many House Republicans, was presented as the bill of last resort if House members can't reach an agreement on a bill of their own.

The law governing the Highway Trust Fund expires at the end of the month, and with House Republicans stalled and the body out of town next week, it is looking increasing unlikely that Congress will pass a final bill by the deadline. That would require lawmakers to pass a temporary extension until a broader agreement can be reached, or let highway programs shut down.

 Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

Tie-ups Mean No Transportation Votes Likely this Week

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Don't waste any time scanning C-SPAN for for congressional transportation votes this week. It's only Wednesday, and already the prospect of any floor action on transportation legislation in Congress is dead for this week.

That's the line from lawmakers and aides in both the House and Senate, as progress on highway bills in each chamber remain bogged down.

In the House, GOP leaders are still working on a scaled-back version of their five-year, $260 billion highway and infrastructure bill after Democrats balked and many Republicans revolted earlier this month. As reported elsewhere, discussions center around a shorter-term bill with a lower price tag. Republicans are tinkering with many provisions, including rejoining federal transit programs to funding from the Highway Trust Fund.

But those negotiations won't be anywhere close to done this week, lawmakers and aides said. "The leadership is working with the chairmen to try to bring a bill to the floor that can pass," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put it more succinctly: "What they're trying to do is find the votes," he said.

Meanwhile, while a two-year, $190 billion bill is pending on the Senate floor, leaders there have still not agreed to the list of amendments needed to let debate proceed. Republicans are insisting on dealing with several other non-transportation-related votes first. They include an amendment to allow broad religious exemptions to new Obama Administration rules requiring insurance coverage for contraception and another taking foreign aid money away from Egypt to punish that country for its crackdown on US non-profit organizations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects a vote on the contraception amendment to take place Thursday, with others to follow. But no transportation-related amendments are likely to come up for the remainder of the week, Senate aides said.

The current Highway Bill's authorization expires at the end of March, and the slow pace of progress in both chambers is putting a new authorization in serious doubt. The House is session next week but out of session the week after. Assuming Republican leaders come up with a workable bill, that would leave just two weeks to pass it and reconcile it with a Senate version. And THAT'S assuming the Senate completes its glacial process and list of amendment votes that is already dozens of votes long.

Talk of yet another temporary Highway Bill extension, possibly 18 months in length, is growing on Capitol Hill.

 

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Transportation Nation

Senate Highway Bill Set to Kick Off Thursday

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set in motion the procedure to move to the Senate Highway bill, cueing up its first test vote for Thursday.

Senators will vote then on whether to proceed to the $109 billion, two-year surface transportation bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. The bill is expected to get the 60 votes needed to overcome delay tactics that have become standard practice in today's Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday finished its markup attempt to bridge a $12 billion gap for the bill. The Highway Trust Fund is fed with gasoline excise taxes. But the money wasn't enough to fund all of the bill's projects and it was up to the Finance Committee to make up the difference. In the end, the panel came up with $10.5 billion.

Assuming MAP-21 gets 60 votes to proceed on Thursday, it'll then be open for amendments on the Senate floor. Reid has not said how long he's willing to let the amendment process go before trying to bring debate to a close.

Meanwhile House Republicans are still preparing to bring up their 5-year, $206 billion highway bill next week. The price tag has some conservative Republicans criticizing the plan, while controversial measures like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling and forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have Democrats in widespread opposition. Democrats are also up in arms over several of the bill's policy choices, including cuts to Amtrak and cuts to federal mass transit programs.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

Senate Dems Tee Up Infrastructure Jobs Vote

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sherman Minton Bridge, Closed for Repairs

Democrats are still working on their election-year portrait of Republicans as the enemies of job creation, and transportation spending is the next color on their palate.

Just hours after the failure of a bill spending $35 billion preserving jobs for teachers and first responders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that Democrats will soon proffer $60 billion in infrastructure projects as way to create jobs. It's paid for with a 0.7% surtax on income over $1 million.

It's Democrats' second try pairing popular parts of President Obama's defeated jobs plan with tax increases on millionaires. In this case, Dems are going for $50 billion for myriad transportation projects and $10 billion in seed money for a federal infrastructure bank. The bank would fund transportation projects and also water, sewer and other infrastructure needs.

"We’re going to give Senate Republicans another chance to do the right thing," Reid told reporters on a conference call Friday.

Right or wrong, the bill stands little chance of becoming law. Republicans have shown unanimous opposition to using a millionaire's surtax to pay for stimulus spending. And while the idea of an infrastructure bank has bipartisan support in the Senate, House Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has declared it "dead on arrival."

Still, the bill gives congressional Democrats and President Obama more ammunition against Republicans as they try to cast them protecting the rich at the expense of jobs. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticized fellow Republicans for "giving great speeches" about job creation but refusing to back the president on legislation. He said he'd "travel the country" calling GOP lawmakers to task and urging them to support the bill.

"A bill that builds roads and bridges and transit systems around the country is the best way to put friends and neighbors back to work,” LaHood said.

The GOP isn't having it. "Two years after spending tens of billions of dollars on ‘shovel ready’ projects in his first stimulus bill, President Obama famously admitted that those projects weren’t as shovel-ready as he thought they were. It would be the height of irresponsibility to make the same mistake twice," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Though still in draft form, the bill calls for spending on a variety of transpo goodies, including $27 billion for highway restoration, repair, and construction projects; $3 billion for transit projects, $2 billion for Amtrak; $2 billion for airport development; and $1 billion for aviation navigation including NextGen. It also has money for buses, surface transportation grants, and metropolitan projects.

Reid said he'll put the bill on the Senate floor the week of November 1, when lawmakers return from a week-long recess. If this vote goes how the last two have gone, expect Republicans to oppose it, come up with their own alternative, and for the election-year politics to fly.

 

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Transportation Nation

Single Senator Holding Up Transpo Funding Deal

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

US Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)

A deal between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to temporarily extend authorizations for both the Federal Aviation Administration and surface transportation programs has hit a snag. And that snag is Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Coburn is blocking the Senate from moving on to a combined FAA-highway bill approved Tuesday by the House. He's objecting to long-standing language in the surface transportation funding bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, that directs 10 percent of some of the bill's funds to non-road projects. About 60 percent of funds under that provision, known as Transportation Enhancements, go to biking and pedestrian projects. Other uses range widely.

The Oklahoma budget hawk took to the Senate floor Wednesday to list some of the projects that may be funded under under what the highway bill designates as "enhancements." They include a simulator at a Corvette museum in Kentucky and "White Albino Squirrel Sanctuary." Coburn complained that such projects are a waste of transportation dollars at a time when the country faces both deep deficits and crumbling roads and bridges.

"There ought to be a time in which we say enough's enough," Coburn said.

Any individual senator can object to consent requests that let the Senate operate more quickly. Coburn's objection could force  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to go through procedural motions that would require days to pass the FAA-transportation extension deal.

That's not uncommon in the slow-moving Senate. But the problem here is that the FAA's current authorization expires on Friday. Failure to approve a temporary FAA reauthorization by then would mean another shutdown, one both parties intended to avoid.

Coburn's objection clearly irritated Reid, who on Thursday suggested the Oklahoma Republican was trying to act as "a dictator" in the Senate.

Coburn offered two ways around a potential FAA shutdown Friday: 1) separate the FAA and highway bills, pass the FAA bill and let the House do the same; or 2) amend the combined package before the Senate to take out the "enhancements."

Negotiations continue.

Stay tuned.

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Transportation Nation

No-Drama Extensions for FAA, Transpo, on Tap in Congress

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Washington, DC -- Even the most rabid prize fighters go to their corners to rest.

Just six weeks after an ugly and embarrassing showdown that shuttered the Federal Aviation Administration for several days, the House on Tuesday easily extended the agency's authorization for four months. They even combined it with a six-month extension of controversial federal surface transportation legislation. The melded package passed the House on a voice vote.

Now the package heads to the Senate, and while easy passage is never guaranteed, it appears headed for approval by week's end there too.

So how did we get from a toxic FAA shutdown in August to an easy, drama-free extension in September? A combination of political pressure and progress on broader issues are at play.

Republicans returned from the August recess last week acknowledging what they said was public disgust with Washington dysfunction. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stressed that government shutdowns and brinkmanship do no good for a flagging economy. And with President Barack Obama now trying to hold lawmakers' to account for some election-year job-creation, the premium is now on cooperation--or at least the appearance of it.

In August, the FAA shutdown because Senate Democrats wouldn't accept a House Republican bill that cut about $16 million from a rural airport subsidy program known as the Essential Air Service. House Transportation Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) was seen by many to be intentionally antagonizing Democrats like Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But the public, largely blind to the struggles of career lawmakers, saw it as a failure of an already failing Congress. Both sides seemed loathe to repeat the exercise so soon.

A senior House GOP aide maintained that the shutdown was entirely the fault of the Senate Democratic leadership. "It didn't make anybody in Congress look good," he said.

That conclusion by House leaders prevailed this week after Mica crafted another FAA extension bill, this one with budget cuts to the agency almost guaranteed to enrage Democrats. The bill was quickly supplanted by one crafted by House leaders that combines an essentially "clean" FAA extension with a highway bill extension at current funding levels.

"I had crafted another FAA authorization," Mica said in an interview Tuesday, just after House passage of the temporary extensions package. "It's basically been a good day. There have been some tough days to lead to a good day," he said.

But negotiations are also moving ahead on some of the tough political issues still dividing Republicans and Democrats in a separate, long-term FAA reauthorization. On Tuesday, Reid linked the easy FAA and highway bill temporary reauthorizations to progress on bigger issues in the FAA permanent bill.

"We're working very very hard to come up with a way of getting the FAA bill done on a permanent basis and getting the highway bill done on a longer term," Reid said.

Neither Mica nor Reid would elaborate on the issues they're discussing in longer term bills. But many of the issues are well-known. Republicans have insisted on repealing an Obama Administration rule, enforced through the National Mediation Board, making it easier for workers at non-union airlines and rail companies to organize. Republicans, both in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, are also going after a the White House for a National Labor Relations Board ruling that sanctioned Boeing for moving operations from Washington State to  South Carolina, where union protections are relatively lax.

"We're working very well with the leadership in the House, convincing them that we're doing our best, I'm convinced they're doing their best to try to get these done on a longer term basis," Reid said.

It is, of course, too early to say whether this-week's detente will lead to agreements between the parties on the FAA and sighway bills. The labor issues in the FAA bill play to the political cores of both parties. And House Republicans and Senate Democrats remain billions of dollars apart on their versions of transportation funding over the next several years.

One senior Senate Democratic aide said the temporary deal merely buys more time for a broader deal that may or may not materialize. "There's been a lot of happy talk, but there hasn't yet been any actual show of compromise," the aide said.

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Transportation Nation

Shutdown: Dems Walk Back Decision to Relent on FAA

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

(photo by Tom May/Flickr)

UPDATED WITH RAY LAHOOD: A senior Senate Democratic aide now tells Transportation Nation that the deal is off. Democrats will NOT accept the House GOP's version of a bill temporarily extending the Federal Aviation Administration. The decision means the two-week-old shutdown caused by the standoff is likely to continue.

The statement comes as a surprise when you consider what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said earlier today. Reid said he was prepared to accept the House GOP's bill on the Senate floor today. The move would have sent the bill to the president, and if signed, reopened the FAA.

"Sometimes you have to be reasonable," Reid said.

His position was backed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been waging a p.r. blitz to get Congress to get the FAA fully back in business. LaHood told reporters on an afternoon conference call that he'd talked with Reid "three or four times" today and that Reid had said he "really wanted" the Senate to vote for the House bill. "I have no doubt from talking with him he really wants this to happen," LaHood said of Reid.

But the bill wasn't reasonable to other Democrats, who've railed against the House GOP's tactics in the shutdown fight. The only difference between the House and Senate bills is about $13 million worth of subsidies for some small airports, one of which happens to be in Reid's home state. The Senate has demanded a "clean" extension of the FAA's funding.

Meanwhile, the House members have left town, leaving the Senate to decide: accept the GOP's terms or allow the FAA shutdown and thousands of temporary layoffs to continue.

While decrying the loss of those jobs and the suspension of improvements to the U.S. aviation system, Secretary LaHood insisted flying safety would not be compromised--even if a bill wasn't passed. "Flying is safe," he said. "Air traffic controllers are guiding planes. Our inspectors are on duty, doing their jobs."

FAA inspectors who check planes for air-worthiness are still on the job because they're paid from the operational side of the agency's budget and not the side furnished by airport fees and taxes, which the FAA stopped collecting when it was partially shut down. However, 40 airport safety inspectors are being required to work without pay because their jobs have been deemed critical to "life and property."

In the background there's a larger fight over union organizing rules at airlines and rail companies on a separate, longer-term FAA bill.

"Not over till it's over," said a spokesman for Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), moments after Reid said he'd acquiesce to the House's demands.

Rockefeller's office later released a statement blaming the FAA shutdown on Republicans' intransigence on the union issue. Rockefeller says: “Today, Republicans once again objected to a simple, fair request—a ‘clean’ extension of funding that would maintain operations into the fall, allow the FAA to function, and restart bipartisan negotiations, which Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I have made clear we are ready to do.  From day 1, House GOP leaders admitted openly—almost proudly—that they were doing this to gain ‘leverage’ toward a larger goal—undermining worker rights."

A statement from Reid's office blames the GOP's move for "laying off thousands of air travel workers just because they are not getting their way."

Senate Dems note that the House could conceivably reconvene and pass a "clean" FAA extension if Senate Republicans would only relent and let one through.

The bottom line is this: Two hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was ready to break the impasse and reopen the FAA, we're right back where we started: shutdown.

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Transportation Nation

Senator Reid Relents; FAA Likely To Reopen

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday Democrats are prepared to give in to House Republicans in the two-week old standoff over the Federal Aviation Administration. But other Democrats appear less willing to give in and could put a kink in Reid's plan.

UPDATE:  Democrats have walked that back, and now say there won't be a deal, setting the stage to keep the partial shutdown going until September.  Read the latest HERE.

Reid told reporters he's prepared to accept the House's version of a bill temporarily reauthorizing the FAA. If no other senator objects that means the stare-down will end and the FAA can soon reopen.

"Sometimes you have to step back and find out what's best for the country," Reid said Tuesday.

Minutes later, a spokesman for Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-Va.), emailed to say: "Not over til it's over." (Note: so true -- TN learned minutes later Democrats wouldn't agree to the House's FAA bill.)

Reid would need the agreement of all senators to go ahead with his plan to accept the House GOP bill, send it to the president, and re-open the FAA. That statement from the Rockefeller aide suggests that agreement may not be easy to get.

Indeed, a Senate Democratic aide emailed moments ago to say the situation is "at an impasse."

Here's a transcript of Reid's remarks. You can listen to the audio here.

Todd Zwillich: If Republicans don't accept a clean temporary extension to the FAA after you're on the floor by the end of the day will you accept the House version and re-open the FAA?

Senator Reid: Yes.  I have said we have 80,000 jobs at least on the line.  In Nevada, as an example, we have a new airport tower there that they started the construction about two weeks ago, all those people have been laid off.  That's a huge project, nearly a $100 million project.

Barbara Boxer just told me they have problem with the control tower in Palm Springs and as I understood it  they've shut down the construction on that and they only have one there so that's difficult.

The Essential Air Services is a program I believe in but I also believe that $3500 per passenger is a little extreme, that's what Ely Neva is and I do my best to protect the state but sometimes you have to be reasonable,  I think, as we learned with this big deal we've just done. Sometimes you have to step back and do what's best by the country and not be bound by some of your own personal issues. I'm willing to give that up I hope the other Senators would do the same.

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Transportation Nation

The Whimper at the End of the Energy Debate

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) This is the way the summer ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper.

The U.S. Senate has hung up its energy policy ambitions for now, shelving any hope of even the narrowest drilling or green energy legislation before lawmakers head home for the August recess at the end of this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced yesterday afternoon that he was canceling plans for a vote on a package of energy provisions after the bill, much of which was bipartisan, failed to attract a single Republican.

"Since Republicans refuse to move forward with any meaningful debate, we’ll postpone tomorrow’s vote on energy until after the recess,” Reid told reporters yesterday.

That comment was the death knell for a spring and summer of wrangling over energy legislation in the Senate.

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Senator Coburn Puts Federal Transit Safety Bill On Hold

Thursday, July 29, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) As a journalist who spends most of his time trying to reach people on the phone, I consider myself to be a connoisseur of hold music - the music played while waiting on hold.

Most hold music is your standard synth-heavy, new age fare. Some places play classical music, which is nice. (Although, listening to "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" while waiting to speak with an unhelpful PR rep can be a little unsettling.) For the most part, hold music is created to be instantly forgotten.

But not in the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). When you call Coburn and get put on hold, you hear good, all-American country music. I called earlier today and got an earful of Trent Willmon's "Broken In," a song about when "your heart's on hold."

Funny that.  Coburn's  a master of the hold - in more ways than one.

Coburn is a frequent user of the Senatorial technique known as "placing a hold." Unlike in the House, the Senate requires unanimous consent to bring a bill to the floor. If a Senator doesn't want a bill to come to the floor, he or she can place a hold on it, single-handedly stopping the bill in its tracks.

Coburn is, without question, the undisputed king of hold placing. At one point in late 2007, he had placed 95 different bills on hold. Coburn has been known to put holds on bills that all 99 other Senators support.

His latest hold is one that could have a big impact on public transportation. According to Democratic staffers in the Senate Majority Leader's office and in the Senate Banking Committee, Coburn has placed a hold on a bill that would give the federal government authority to set safety standards for urban transit systems.

Unlike with nearly every other mode of transportation, transit systems in big cities are not currently subject to federal regulation. And the National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this week (watch their animation here)  that this lack of oversight was one of the factors that led to last year's fatal train crash on D.C.'s Metro, which killed eight passengers and a train operator.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Energy Reform Gets Even Smaller

Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The slimmed-down energy bill we've been forecasting for the Senate floor next week will be even slimmer than expected.

The Hill newspaper is quoting Senate Democratic aides who say that the energy bill will leave off any attempt set a price for carbon. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will go with an even narrower package, regulating BP and other oil drillers as well as promoting green energy production and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Supporters of a cap-and-trade approach to regulating greenhouse gases had floated the idea of applying the scheme to utilities alone in recent weeks. That approach might have been politically more palatable to a Senate that is wary of slowing down the economy with new energy mandates. Now it seems even the less ambitious carbon policy is off the table until next year.

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Transportation Nation

Senators to White House with Energy Agenda Unclear

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)  Nearly a quarter of the United States Senate is expected at the White House this morning to meet with President Obama on energy and climate legislation, though the form that legislation will take--and whether it will have the votes to pass--is very much in doubt.

Twenty-three senators from both parties, as well as Independents, are due to meet with Obama shortly before 11 AM. While broad energy legislation is the main topic, the fate of global warming legislation in the form of carbon regulation hangs in the balance. That balance may include no direct attempts to control carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

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Transportation Nation

Senate May Drop Key Tax Credit For Biodiesel Industry

Thursday, June 24, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)  The nation's truckers aren’t likely to start pumping biodiesel any time soon, by the looks of the United States Senate.  That’s because the resurrection of a big biodiesel tax credit is poised to fall victim to a larger tax and jobs bill, which failed tonight on the Senate floor.

The credit is worth $868 million over ten years to refiners who blend biofuel from soybeans, animal fats, restaurant waste oil and other sources into traditional, petroleum-based diesel.  Refiners get a one-dollar tax credit for every gallon they blend, and the savings generally go to making biodiesel more competitive with standard diesel at the pump.

Congress has extended the credit for the last few years, and it still enjoys strong support from both parties. But partisan disagreement over a broader package of tax provisions and unemployment benefits ended the credit.  At least for the time being.

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