You hear a lot of talk in Washington about improving the economy and creating jobs. If that is really the goal, then the transportation bill should pass quickly and it should pass easily. Of course, that’s not happening. By way of reminder, the last time Congress reauthorized transportation spending, which was in 2005, the Conference Report passed the House by a vote of 412-8.
I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that infrastructure spending creates jobs and a comprehensive transportation network is a benefit to a strong economy. A 2007 Federal Highway Administration study concluded that for every $1.25 billion in federal spending on transportation infrastructure, 35,000 jobs are supported.
There is broad agreement that if the Senate-passed transportation reauthorization bill were put to a vote in the House, it would pass with overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed in the Senate with a vote of 74-22. That’s not because it is a perfect bill, it isn’t. The Senate bill is, however, an acceptable compromise in the current climate. So why not put it up for a vote?
There is really only one reason - a small group of uncompromising extremists in the House Republican Caucus is putting enormous pressure on a majority of Republicans, and that majority won’t stand up to the extremists in their own party and seek reasonable compromise. This type of politics is a recipe for disaster. If Congress cannot deal with what has historically been bipartisan legislation, how can anyone expect action on the more controversial issues that we all know will be coming up in the months ahead?
The gridlock over the transportation bill is emblematic of what I believe is a fundamental question that is playing out in almost everything that Congress debates lately. What kind of role should government play in our society? Should government have a role in health care or education or job creation or transportation? I think the answer is yes and we certainly should have a robust discussion over the way that government can best be involved. I realize that some Members strongly disagree and will not compromise that belief. However, I also know that most are willing to seek common ground if simply given a chance.
Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. Many public transit agencies, including in Massachusetts, are struggling to close budget gaps while at the same time trying to maintain basic services. Many expansion projects face an uncertain future because states don’t know how much federal money will be available. A robust public transportation network and upgraded infrastructure have a measurable impact on the economy. People will get to their jobs more easily and goods will move more quickly. There’s also an added environmental benefit to improved public transit options and upgraded infrastructure.
Reauthorizing the transportation bill should be one of the easiest tasks facing this Congress. It creates jobs and improves the economy. But the path to the President’s desk is uncertain. It doesn’t have to be this hard. Legislating is about compromise and it’s long past time to resolve the impasse over the transportation bill.
Rep. Capuano (D-Mass. is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.