September 13, 2011

Rahall: Surface and Air Transportation Extensions Keep Construction Crews on the Clock as Congress Completes its Work

Washington, D.C. – The House of Representatives today passed legislation to keep the Nation’s aviation and surface transportation programs running while Congress completes its work on long-term reauthorizations.

“Extending these programs is critical to our economic recovery, and the pending measure does so without any poison pills or draconian cuts to investment in our surface transportation programs,” said U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  “In this regard, I would like to commend the Senate and House leadership for arriving at an agreement late Friday afternoon on an extension of our Nation’s surface transportation programs and of programs under the FAA at current funding levels and without any adverse policy riders.”

The House passed the “Surface and Air Transportation Programs Extension Act of 2011” (H.R. 2887).  The bill would extend at current funding levels aviation programs under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until January 31, 2012 and highway, transit, and highway safety programs until March 31, 2012.

“The funding levels in the pending measure are far preferable to what we are seeing being proposed by Republicans on the Appropriations Committee.  Just last week they rolled out a Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation Appropriations bill which proposes to slash highway and transit investment, destroying more than 600,000 well-paying private sector American jobs – jobs lost in every State of the Union,” said Rahall.  “I cannot support these dangerous and draconian cuts to investments in America’s future. To keep pace with India, China, and our other international competitors, we need to invest more, not less, in America’s future.  If we stop investing in the future, there is simply no way we can retire the debt of the past.”

Major parts of the FAA were shut down for two weeks in July and August when the House Republican leadership inserted controversial policy provisions into a short-term funding extension of the FAA programs.  The Republican-led shutdown of the FAA came at the cost of jeopardizing the jobs of tens of thousands of American workers and what some estimate to be about $400 million in lost revenue.

“I am pleased that my Republican friends have chosen not to force another shutdown.  I trust they recognized the damage caused to our Nation’s aviation system, and the financial hardship placed on working-class families across the country, when they chose to force a policy rider into an otherwise-clean extension in July and caused a senseless, two-week shutdown of major parts of the FAA,” said Rahall.  “Pending enactment of a long-term bill, this short-term extension is the responsible path forward. It will avert more damage to the aviation system and the economy.”

The House and Senate have each passed long-term FAA authorizations, but differences remain between the two bills.  Despite several calls by Rahall and requests by the Senate, the House Republican leadership has refused to move the process forward and appoint a conference committee.  Rahall again today urged the House Republican leadership to take steps to complete its work on the long-term FAA authorization.  

“What we should be doing is completing the conference committee on the long-term FAA reauthorization bill.  Three months ago, House and Senate negotiators informally narrowed down the list of differences between the two chambers to just a few,” said Rahall.  “The Senate appointed conferees over five months ago.  Yet, the House has not followed suit.  Let us finish a long-term reauthorization and show the American people that Congress puts planes and passengers before politics.”

Congress is also currently crafting a new long-term authorization of highway, highway safety, transit, and rail programs. The most recent multi-year surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU) expired in September 2009, and the program has continued to operate through temporary extensions.

“Failure to extend the surface transportation programs could shut down more than 134,000 active highway and bridge projects and over 5,000 active transit projects, jeopardizing more than one million private sector American jobs over the near year,” said Rahall.  “It is my hope that, with this six-month extension of surface transportation programs, we can come together and work to develop a long-term surface transportation authorization bill that keeps the Nation economically competitive, meets the demands of the 21st century, and creates millions of family-wage American jobs.”