As Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., this week, Republican brinkmanship has once again frozen progress on Americans’ top national priority — creating jobs.
Last summer, our nation’s creditworthiness was held hostage to political gamesmanship by Republicans, causing significant damage to the economy and public confidence in the federal government. More recently, the critical operations of the Federal Aviation Administration were hamstrung for weeks by the injection of partisan posturing into a traditionally nonpartisan issue — airline safety.
Now, during the beginning of prime construction season, House Republicans are idling on national transportation policy, voting on another temporary extension — the ninth in a row — to authorize federal spending on highways and mass transit. The path that has led to this unfortunate impasse is yet another illustration of the GOP’s “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. This time, House Republicans have literally chosen their way over our highways.
For months, GOP leadership touted their “transportation and energy” bill as the most significant jobs legislation that Congress will consider this year. Behind closed doors and with zero input from Democrats, they produced H.R. 7, a bill so partisan and unrealistic there are not even enough Republican votes to ram it through the House.
In fact, because the final text was released a mere few days before the markup, it passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee without a single Member having read the text of the bill. Once it became known that the legislation would kill 500,000 jobs nationwide while leaving the nation with a 20th-century infrastructure, the wheels fell off completely.
While H.R. 7 has been on life support, 74 Senators passed the MAP-21 plan, which was produced by unlikely partners Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in a genuine spirit of bipartisanship. MAP-21 is a far more serious effort to address America’s transportation needs than H.R. 7 — and it is fully paid for, something that House Republicans have been unable to do. In my mind, the Senate is right to argue that MAP-21 be the blueprint for a way forward. Meanwhile, the House plan remains in limbo, and the expiration of current authorization for transportation funding is Saturday.
Last week, I introduced MAP-21 in the House to provide the GOP with a bipartisan avenue forward and give House Democrats an opportunity to vote for a plan that will save 1.8 million jobs and create up to 1 million more. Passing MAP-21 before Saturday would also provide certainty for states and maintain current funding levels for highways and public transportation, consolidate and streamline highway programs, establish a national freight program, improve safety, and institute performance measures to improve accountability for transportation infrastructure investments.
Now, contrast those benefits with the costs of another extension: greater uncertainty for local communities and construction crews. We simply cannot afford to continue down this misguided path of serial extensions. We have run out of road to kick the can down. It’s as simple as that.
America has a significant need for investments in our infrastructure. Fifty percent of our roads are in disrepair, 70,000 bridges are structurally deficient and transit ridership was up a staggering 235 million trips last year. MAP-21 takes steps to address these needs while acknowledging that the needs of mass transit riders, bikers and pedestrians must also be addressed.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.