House lawmakers promise highway bill next week

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Friday, January 27, 2012

Transportation leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives say they’ll introduce a long-term surface transportation bill next week.

Rep. John Mica, R-FL, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said financing for the bill will be tied to American energy production.

“America needs to rebuild its infrastructure but I do not support what appears to be the President’s plan to finance that effort by downsizing the military,” Mica said in a statement following President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

“Next week Republicans will introduce a long-stalled major transportation measure – killed two years ago by the President – that will be financed in part by increased American energy production, creating jobs and lowering energy costs.”

During the State of the Union address, President Obama said the U.S. must rebuild crumbling infrastructure and focus on clean energy.

“Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure,” he said. “So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges.”

Obama said he will sign an executive order in the next few weeks to cut red tape on construction projects. He then unveiled his plan to help pay for infrastructure.

“In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects,” he said. “But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

While the president said America should focus on clean energy and domestic natural gas production, he did touch upon the issue of oil drilling.

“I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That's right - eight years. Not only that - last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.”

Obama is not saying that drilling and infrastructure funding should be linked, however.

Congressional Democrats have their own ideas for supplementing the federal Highway Trust Fund. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, ranking member of the House T&I Committee, released a statement saying the U.S. should close loopholes in current “Buy America” regulations.

“America used to lead the pack when it comes to manufacturing and innovation, but now we are packing up entire industries and sending them overseas to our foreign competitors,” Rahall stated. “We are no longer buying just cheap trinkets from China. We are now literally buying bridges and major transportation infrastructure. Loopholes in ‘Buy America’ regulations are being manipulated as much as the Chinese manipulate their own currency.”

On the Senate side, Democrats and Republicans in the Environment and Public Works Committee came together on Nov. 9, 2011, to pass a two-year surface transportation bill – or at least the framework for a bill under their jurisdiction. Other committees are drafting their provisions to add to the bill including a financing title.

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