Rep. Mica: Two-year transportation bill is insufficient

The rules of the House adopted by Republicans when they took control of the chamber limit how much of the Highway Trust Fund money could be appropriated, Mica said. He said that his proposal was set at about what the highway trust fund brings in from federal gas taxes, and allocating any more would deplete the trust fund by 2013.

He added that states looking to the federal government for money could plan better for long-term projects if they knew how much was available, even if it was less than they were used to.

"A two-year bill is a recipe for bankrupting the trust fund," he said. "It cuts the knees out from under states," who sometimes plan transportation projects on 10-year cycles, he said.

Mica said the eight short-terms extensions of the current SAFETEA-LU bill. The extensions were close enough to a two-year bill, he said, and they left a lot of large transportation projects in the lurch.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Wednesday, Boxer signaled that she would have preferred a six-year measure, too. But she said it was important to invest as much as possible now in transportation.

“A great nation has to invest in its people and in its resources and its future,” she said. “And if we have bridges that fall down, we’re lost.”

Mica was talking Wednesday about the art of the possible as well, saying that the House would not approve a transportation measure that spent more than the $230 billion he is proposing.

"Have you seen the votes on the floor," he asked. "They would vote down a Mother's Day resolution if it had extra spending. That is the climate we're in."

Perhaps with that in mind, Mica pointed out Wednesday that his proposal would consolidate 70 programs he said were duplicative. Both the House and Senate proposals are far less than President Obama's, who recommended spending $556 billion over six years in his 2012 budget proposal.

Mica's bill would also encourages states to create their own infrastructure banks as opposed to the federal version called for by some transportation advocates, most notably Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

He also indicated that it would not include provisions related to labor similar to the ones that have bogged down negotiations on a separate spending bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. In that measure, House leaders inserted a provision undoing a rule from the National Mediation Board aimed defining at the electorate in union elections as just those who show up to vote, making it easier for unions to achieve a majority.

The language was not included in the Democratically controlled Senate's version of the bill, and it drew a veto threat from President Obama.

But Mica said Wednesday "I am not touching labor in the draft."

"Labor, (state) legislatures and the business lobby would have to work together if they what infrastructure to be built," he said.

Mica plans to formally announce his proposal at a news conference Thursday morning.