The generally bipartisan, if wonky, surface transportation issue got a major dose of political (and partisan) medicine last week when House Republicans unveiled their American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act. The measure combines elements of a highway bill constructed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., with several hot-button energy proposals that are sure to raise the hackles of Democrats and environmentalists alike--new offshore drilling, opening parts of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, and possibly approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Yikes. It's not like Mica was making too many friends with Democrats when it was just a highway bill. Committee ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., complained as recently as last month that he still hadn't seen text of the proposal. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican, said it was the worst transportation bill he had ever seen. And conservative Republicans are none too pleased either. The Club for Growth will consider a vote for the measure a black mark against any Republican who wants prove his or her conservative chops.
Still, members of the transportation community dutifully praised the lawmakers for actually, well, paying attention to them. "We are pleased that the House and Senate are moving ahead on a long-term surface transportation authorization," said American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director John Horsley. "We are encouraged that House Republican leadership has finally allowed the Chairman to proceed with this important national priority," said AAA President Bob Darbelnet.
Is it worth it? Does the forthcoming political brawl offer enough attention to a long-neglected infrastructure bill to make up for the twists of logic that surely will accompany the fight? When the finger-pointing dies down, will the surface transportation measure have made any progress?