WASHINGTON - Acting with unexpected speed, lawmakers voted March 29 for a 90-day extension of federal highway and mass transit programs, averting a giant crash on April 1 that would have halted up to 130,000 construction projects nationwide and cost hundreds of thousands of building trades jobs.
But the temporary fix doesn't solve the basic partisan political fight over federal funds for highways, subways, buses and other transit - and that impasse left unions for both mass transit and highway workers fuming at the political game-playing.
That's because the ruling House GOP wouldn't even let lawmakers vote on a 2-year $109 billion bipartisan highway-mass transit bill the Democratic-run Senate approved earlier this month. The House OKd the 90-day bill on party lines just before noon on March 29, 266-158. The Senate zipped it through at 2:30 p.m. by voice vote.
House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., tried to bring up his own five-year bill, which defunds mass transit and orders privatization of many transit systems as well as food service on Amtrak. Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan says Mica's bill is so small it would actually cost jobs. Mica's measure was bounced, too.
O'Sullivan said he was "appalled" by the games. The House GOP's "radical wing succeeded in derailing passage of a long-term highway bill (the one approved recently in the Senate) that fully invests in America's transportation systems and protects good jobs. After nearly three years of temporary extensions, another 90-day extension shows incompetence and dysfunction.
"With one-in-four bridges in America deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, House Republicans are forcing Americans to play Russian roulette every day when they drive to work, pick up groceries, or travel with their families,' he added. O'Sullivan noted the highway-mass transit bill should be "the single-largest jobs-creating legislation in the nation."
Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley was similarly caustic about the 90-day extension, time lawmakers should use to try to craft a long-term bill. Hanley also prefers the Senate bill. It lacks the anti-union sections in Mica's failed bill.
"House Republicans kicked the can down the road again, threatening the safety, security and reliability of our public transportation systems" by approving only the 90-day bill, ATU said. Hanley said the GOP seemed more interested in the upcoming House recess, adding: "Meanwhile, commuters all over the country are paying higher fares and waiting longer for crowded trains and buses to come, if they come at all."
Photo: clarkmaxwell // CC 2.0