Like a damp bottle rocket on Independence Day, an attempt to put pressure on Congressional negotiators to finish work on the Highway Bill this week fizzled, making a 10th extension to the 1998 funding levels necessary.
But some observers on Capitol Hill predict final action before the five-week Congressional recess that begins July 30.
Senators and representatives granted themselves a ninth extension Tuesday, July 19, to resolve differences, including Highway Trust Fund allocations and money for public transportation. The 1998 highway legislation expired in September 2003, but the House and Senate had not agreed on a new six-year funding bill, so the old law was extended, and extended, and extended.
The mini-extension of two days this week was designed, according to Rep. Don Young, R-AK, to "keep the pressure on" negotiators to resolve their differences about the $286 billion measure.
That pressure fizzled Wednesday when the House adjourned for the night without taking action to allow the compromise language to be voted on the next day. Therefore the 10th extension became a necessity.
However, Transportation Weekly reported Thursday that the scuttlebutt in the halls of Congress was that a final version would be agreed upon by Friday, July 29. They say the impact another extension - which would have to go into September because of the five-week August recess - would make it almost impossible to alter the funding levels for fiscal year 2005. It also would turn what was supposed to be a six-year funding measure into a four-year bill.
Basic funding levels have been among the main sticking points for the legislation. In particular, the allocation of Highway Trust Fund money has stalled the bill as states that contribute more to the fund than they receive have pushed for what they consider equity.
In addition to mainstream issues such as the trust fund, House and Senate negotiators on a conference committee have been trying to resolve a number of trucking-related measures. Those include:
- A pilot program that would increase truck parking;
- A unified registration system;
- Tolling provisions;
- Changes to regs that would address motor carriers that have a pattern of safety problems;
- Outreach and training for state inspectors to help them deal with foreign commercial motor vehicles;
- Possible changes in regs for diabetic commercial drivers; and
- A mandatory fuel surcharge with 100 percent pass-through to the person who actually buys the fuel.
- By Coral Beach, staff editor