Rockefeller urges House support of Senate transportation bill
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Friday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent letters to West Virginia's members of the House of Representatives, urging them to call on House leaders to vote on a bipartisan surface transportation bill approved by the Senate earlier this month.
In response, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., put out a statement that criticized the Senate for not voting on bills passed by the Republican-led House.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Rockefeller played a major role in developing the bill that passed the Senate, 74-22, on March 14. All Democrats and independents who voted on the Senate bill voted for it; of the 44 Republicans who voted on the bill, 22 voted for it and 22 against it.
The bill would provide nearly $500 million for the state annually and create or save an estimated 1.8 million jobs nationally, Rockefeller said.
In his letter to Capito and Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Rockefeller described the bill as "the most responsible course of action for West Virginia and I ask that you join in this effort."
According to The Associated Press, the House and Senate are heading toward a showdown next week that could result in a cutoff of federal highway and transit aid to states just as the spring construction season starts. The government's authority to spend money from the trust fund that pays for transportation programs, as well as its power to levy the federal gasoline and diesel taxes that feed the fund, expire on March 31.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been unable to recruit enough Republicans to pass the GOP's overhaul of federal highway programs, according to the AP. The biggest group of holdouts are conservatives who want highway programs to be paid for entirely by federal gas and diesel taxes even though that might mean a nearly 40 percent cut in spending because revenue from those taxes has declined.
Boehner's fallback plan is to pass a 90-day extension of current programs in order to give the House more time to line up votes for a comprehensive bill. But Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday he's "not inclined" to go along with an extension, and urged the House to take up the Senate bill.
"Short-term extensions lack the certainty the transportation community needs to plan, create jobs and make our transportation system safer," Rockefeller said in his letter Friday.
Capito, a senior member of the House Transportation Committee, has supported the House transportation bill. That bill passed the Transportation Committee but has not been scheduled for consideration by the full House.
Asked if Capito would vote for the Senate transportation bill, spokeswoman Jamie Corley provided a statement from Capito that criticized the Senate and Reid but did not say if Capito would vote for the Senate bill.
"Right now there are 30 bipartisan bills that have hit a 'Reid Roadblock' in the U.S. Senate. The House has passed policies that are good for West Virginia, like giving the states the ability set their own environmental standards and delaying implementation of costly clean air rules which are threatening to shut down coal-fired power plants," Capito said in the statement.
"Passing a highway bill is essential, but we also need the Senate to stop the bickering and help us move these bills," Capito said. "I have long stated that we need a federal highway bill that will put West Virginians back to work, especially in the construction, transportation and energy sectors which have been hard hit in this economic downturn.
"A federal highway bill will make sure Washington prioritizes taxpayer dollars smartly on projects that will create jobs and fix our nation's bridges and roads," Capito said.
On her Twitter account, Capito also fired off several messages to Rockefeller, asking about bills passed by the House but not taken up in the Senate.
McKinley, who was traveling in his district on Friday, could not be reached for a comment.
Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, has opposed the bill passed by that committee.
"The House Republican leadership wants to continue peddling their 'my way or the highway' plan they have been pursuing, which is leading us down a very dangerous and destructive path with the March 31 deadline in sight. No one appears to be at the steering wheel," Rahall said.
"Instead of kicking the can down the road with an extension, which we have been doing for far too long, we should send down the road a two-year bipartisan highway bill the president can sign into law today to put West Virginians back to work and create certainty at the start of the construction season," he said.
In his letter, Rockefeller praised the Senate's bipartisan vote on its version of the bill.
"In a time of deep divisions and acrimony, this vote showed that it is possible to come together and move real bipartisan legislation," Rockefeller wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.