House to Senate: SAFETEA-LU is played out

| 9/24/2009

U.S. House lawmakers still believe they can get a new highway authorization bill in place sooner rather than later, but they also acknowledge that it can’t happen overnight.

With funding issues yet to be resolved on a new authorization – something that could cost taxpayers up to $500 billion – the House and Senate have agreed on only one thing: It was necessary to extend the 2005 authorization known as SAFETEA-LU to continue to fund transportation past its Sept. 30 sunset date.

The agreement ended there on Wednesday, Sept. 23, when the House voted on a three-month extension of the Bush-era transportation program with the belief that a replacement could still be become law by Dec. 31.

The House vote of 335-85 exceeded the two-thirds majority necessary to pass on an expedited schedule, and sent a message to the Senate that the extension should remain as short as possible.

“This fall, let’s begin the hard work of passing the transformational six-year surface transportation authorization the country so urgently needs,” Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement.

The Senate earlier this summer voted in favor of an 18-month extension that would mean the terms of SAFETEA-LU would remain in effect until after the 2010 mid-term elections. The Senate wanted 18 months to give lawmakers time to focus on health care and climate in the short-term.

SAFETEA-LU, which stands for the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, did not happen overnight, either. It was delayed for more than a year until lawmakers finally agreed to terms in 2005.

For any extension to become law, the House and Senate must agree to a timeline before sending the measure to the president’s desk.

– By David Tanner, staff writer