Another showdown is coming in Washington, D.C., that could ultimately affect us here in Olympia. The battle this time is not over the debt ceiling – although that fight is looming again – the Affordable Health Care Act, a bank bailout or tax breaks for the wealthy.
The issue is transportation.
Democrats and Republicans reached bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate on a transportation spending bill that would send $44 million next year to Washington state for construction on roads, bridges, rail and public transit, creating an estimated 30,000 jobs.
The bill merely approves the current transportation spending appropriations, which expire at the end of June. If the bill isn’t passed by the House, $109 billion in federal money for highway projects over the next two years would dry up and scuttle projects ready to go, and pull the rug out from under thousands of construction workers nationwide.
After last week’s weak jobs report, you’d think our national leaders couldn’t wait to pass a bill that puts so many Americans back to work. And if U.S. senators reached bipartisan support, what’s the problem?
Two words: House Republicans.
While the Senate achieved bipartisan support, the GOP-majority in the House didn’t even pass a bill of its own. It has preferred to throw up obstacles to the Senate bill, unless Congress and the Obama administration approve the oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas.
Political extortion is nothing new in Washington, or even in state legislatures. But holding up a simple extension of transportation appropriations and keeping thousands of workers from the jobs they desperately need is outrageous.
Such tactics suggest Republicans are intentionally stalling economic recovery, which they will then shamelessly blame on President Barack Obama in an effort to weaken his chances at re-election in November.
That’s not just dirty politics. Stalling transportation spending hurts individuals and families who can’t make house or car payments. It hurts local businesses. It forces even more people to seek unemployment benefits, and everyone pays the cost of that. It hurts our nation.
Regardless of party politics or individual pet projects, Congress has traditionally cooperated around transportation spending because building infrastructure is not only good for the economy, it’s a commonly accepted role of government. When business can’t move freight and workers can’t commute to their jobs because highways are inadequate, the whole nation suffers.
Gov. Chris Gregoire lobbied congressional delegations last month to pass the highways bill. She said if funding is delayed, it will only add to the cost of construction projects that must be eventually completed.
There are 1,340 miles of pavement, 34 safety projects, eight bridge replacements and numerous other transportation-related, statewide construction projects dependent on the spending bill, according to the governor’s transportation policy adviser, Jennifer Ziegler.
Failure to approve the bill will have disastrous effects on mega-projects, such as the 520 floating bridge replacement, renovation of the Vancouver to Portland crossing of the Columbia River and turning the Alaskan Way Viaduct into a tunnel. Delaying those projects alone could further stall our state’s already lagging economic recovery.
Even putting the highways bill in doubt causes uncertainty in a fragile economy. We saw the serious damage that kind of political chicanery can cause during last year’s wrangling over raising the debt ceiling.
For the good of the nation, House Republicans should stop their political power play and approve the transportation bill already passed by their Senate colleagues. They are selfishly hurting Americans who need to get back to work.