We appear set on a path, at least through the end of the year, of yet more stopgap continuing resolutions because the transportation bill that passed the Senate with a broadly bipartisan 74 votes has no traction in the House. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the House alternative the worst transportation bill he had ever seen, and it cannot seem to muster 218 votes there. Here, the big problem is obvious: The gas tax that pays for roads — in effect, a user fee for those who benefit directly from them — has not been adjusted for inflation or raised to take the pressing infrastructure needs into account and is nearly tapped out. Good work on infrastructure requires planning, not the uncertainty of stopgap measures.
This week also underscores the underlying dysfunction that makes optimism about bipartisan deals so hard to maintain. Remember the huge kerfuffle two years ago when the House Democrats suggested using “deem and pass” on the health care reform bill?
To little fanfare and no outcry, GOP leaders used deem and pass recently to get the appropriations panels to abide by the lower levels of the House-passed budget. But apparently they did it so poorly that they had to do it again this week — while also waiving yet again the three-day rule in place so that there can be full public scrutiny of bills brought to the floor.
The fact is that self-executing rules have been used frequently by both parties, so this embarrassment is only a sign of rank hypocrisy, not of outrageous abuse of power. But it is also a sign that the House will continue to founder, using tricks and continuing resolutions to avoid catastrophe more than finding ways to forge bipartisan problem-solving agreements.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.