Highway spending fight begins in Congress

Monday begins the first full week of haggling over the amount of money the federal government should spend on transportation during the next few years, and how long of a commitment it should make.

Both chambers of Congress have revealed their proposals for a new highway and mass transit reauthorization bill, but the two versions are starkly different.

The Senate has proposed spending $104 billion over two years, an average of about $54 billion a year. The House has proposed spending $230 billion over six years, an average of about $35 billion, though backers say the money can be leveraged through loans equal to about $70 billion a year.

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Transportation advocates and the business community both say they like the House's length of time, but question whether the bill contains enough money. That position produced rare consensus between one of the largest labor unions, the AFL-CIO, and one of the biggest groups in the business lobby, the Chamber of Commerce.

Now that the numbers are out, specific competing industry groups will begin jockeying this week for larger pieces of whatever pie there ends up being.

Elsewhere this week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will look Wednesday at efforts to block terrorists from traveling since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Speakers will include Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for National Protection Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security David Heyman.

The House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will revisit the issue of pipeline safety Thursday. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Congress to increase fines for pipeline safety violations in the wake of a February explosion in Allentown, Pa., that left five people dead.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Economic Development, Public Building and Emergency Management subcommittee will also look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 2012 budget proposal Thursday.

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