Senator Boxer’s Floor Speech On The Need For The House To Pass a Long-term Surface Transportation Bill

October 7, 2015

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

 We are facing three possible shutdowns in the weeks ahead and, if we don’t act, bad things will happen.  The first is October 29th when the current authorization for our surface transportation programs expires.  The second is November 6th when the debt limit must be raised.  Then, on December 11th, we need to continue funding the federal government.  That’s three possible shutdowns in a very short period of time.

 None should happen if we do our job.

 It has been over 100 days since the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved the DRIVE Act, 68 days since the Senate passed this bill by a vote of 65 to 34, and it is just 22 days before federal surface transportation programs shut down.  This is because the law authorizing these transportation programs expires on October 29th and, without action to extend the Highway Trust Fund, all payments to states stop on October 30th.

 This is inexcusable.  More than two months ago, the Senate acted in a bipartisan fashion to pass a long-term transportation bill that increases funding for road, bridge, and transit projects.  This legislation provides the certainty that our states, businesses, and workers desperately need.

 Now we are up against this deadline and what has the House done?  I had received assurances that the House would follow the lead of the Senate and introduce and pass a long-term transportation bill.  It has not done so.

 So I ask -- where is the House bill? 

 In September, 68 organizations sent a letter to the House calling on it to pass a transportation bill.  As the letter stated, “The Senate passed a multi-year surface transportation bill with substantial bipartisan support in July.  It is now incumbent on the House of Representatives to keep the reauthorization process moving forward to ensure a six-year bill is enacted before the latest short-term program extension expires October 29.” 

 Let me show you who these organizations are: National Association of Manufacturers; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; American Road & Transportation Builders Association; Associated General Contractors of America; U.S. Travel Association; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; International Union of Operating Engineers; Laborers International Union of North America; Building America's Future; American Bus Association; AAA; National Retail Federation; American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; American Public Transportation Association; American Trucking Association; American Society of Civil Engineers; American Highway Users Alliance; American Public Works Association; National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association; Auto Care Association; National Steel Bridge Alliance; National Ready Mixed Concrete Association; Associated Equipment Distributors; American Concrete Pressure Pipe Association; American Association of Port Authorities; National Safety Council; Coalition for America's Gateways & Trade Corridors; Corn Refiners Association; Institute of Makers of Explosives; National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association; Industrial Minerals Association-North America; National Recreation and Park Association; National Electrical Contractors Association; National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc.; American Concrete Pavement Association; North American Equipment Dealers Association; Motorcycle Riders Foundation; Transportation Intermediaries Association; Association of Equipment Manufacturers; NATSO -- Representing America’s Travel Plazas and Truckstops; American Iron and Steel Institute; Metropolitan Planning Council (Chicago); American Institute of Steel Construction; American Concrete Pipe Association; National Precast Concrete Association; The National Industrial Transportation League; Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association; National Asphalt Pavement Association; Construction & Demolition Recycling Association; American Council of Engineering Companies; Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute; Governors Highway Safety Association; Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association; American Rental Association; North America’s Building Trades Unions; National Association of Development Organizations; National Electrical Manufacturers Association; International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association; Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance; American Traffic Safety Services Association; The Association of Union Constructors; Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association; Asphalt Recycling & Reclaiming Association; National Utility Contractors Association; International Slurry Surfacing Association; Airports Council International-North America; Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance; Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute; and Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

 I am asking that the House go to conference with the Senate so that we can work out our differences and get a bill to the President’s desk.  The House can use a number of procedural tools to go to conference with the Senate, or they could make modifications to the DRIVE Act and we can go to conference on that.

 This is not a partisan issue -- not at all -- and all I am asking is for the House to move forward with their bill.  The businesses that desperately call for a long-term bill are owned by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents of all stripes and that is why I am calling on all House members, Democrats and Republicans, to come together.  Senate Democrats and Republicans did it and they can do it, too.

 Short-term extensions prevent states from moving forward with any significant transportation projects.  It is like going to a bank to get a mortgage to buy a house, but the bank would only agree to a six-month mortgage.  There is no way someone would go ahead with making such a large investment without that long-term certainty that funding will be available when they need it.  Or maybe you need a loan for a car but the bank tells you that they will only give you enough for three months.

 The federal government provides over 50 percent of the capital expenditures for state highway projects nationwide, which means that states and local governments rely heavily on federal funding to maintain and improve their transportation systems.  However that is just the national average -- in some states this figure is much higher.  For example, North Dakota and South Carolina rely on the federal government for nearly 80% of their highway and bridge projects.  In Montana, the federal government provides 87% of their highway and bridge funding.

 We need to invest in our infrastructure now.  Today there are over 61,000 bridges nationwide that are structurally deficient and 50 percent of our nation’s roads are in less than good condition.  Every day, there are over 215 million crossings by motorists on structurally deficient bridges in all 50 states. 

 A robust, multi-year surface transportation bill will sustain millions of jobs for American workers and help the construction industry, which was hit hard by the Great Recession.  There are still approximately 1.3 million fewer construction workers today compared to 2006. 

 According to the Associated General Contractors, 24 states and the District of Columbia lost construction jobs between July and August of this year.  Construction industry officials say this is due to uncertainty about future federal funding levels for highway and transit repairs and improvements.

 Transportation is and should be a bipartisan issue.  That is why I am so proud of the passage of the DRIVE Act in the Senate in July.  I worked with my colleagues across party lines, including Senator Inhofe, Majority Leader McConnell, and Senator Durbin, to craft a bipartisan bill. 

 Everyone knows we need a long-term, bipartisan, robust transportation bill, and nobody wants our bridges falling down.  But we need to see the House step up to the plate.  Today is Wednesday, and next week Congress is in recess, yet the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee still has not even scheduled a mark-up of a bill.  The House is running out of time to act ahead of the October 29th deadline.

 The reports I have heard indicate that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee might take action on a bill during the last week of October.  In that case, if a short-term extension does become necessary, let me put everyone on notice.

 If they think that they are going to pull out their favorite issue, such as getting an  extension for Positive Train Control (PTC) on a short-term extension or as a stand-alone bill, they are wrong.  I understand that many have argued that addressing the approaching PTC deadline is extremely critical, and failing to do so will have dramatic financial consequences. But, you know what? There are a lot of issues addressed in the DRIVE Act that are critically important and that have financial ramifications on this country.  This is why we need to get to conference and produce a bipartisan, long-term surface transportation bill.  I will oppose any attempts to cherry pick issues and deal with them outside of the long-term bill. 

 Similarly, let me be clear that a short-term extension will not be a vehicle to address issues that were included in the DRIVE Act.

 Everyone knows how important this is and we passed a good bill here in the Senate. 

 Here are just a few highlights from the DRIVE Act: 

    • Over $55 billion a year for six years – first three years fully paid for, for highway, highway safety, and transit programs;
    • Every state gets more formula funding for both highways and transit;
    • Over 21% share for transit each year of the bill;
    • Two new programs – a formula freight program which will provide funds for all states to improve goods movement and the Assistance for Major Projects Program, called AMP, to provide grant funding for major projects;
    • Triples NHTSA fines;
    • Includes McCaskill-Schumer rental car bill; and
    • First-ever commuter rail fund for PTC -- $200 million for grants and loans.

 We were able to get the job done in the Senate, now the House needs to get its job done.  There are several ways the House can get there – including passing its own bill or taking up the Senate bill.  But no matter what, Congress cannot shirk our responsibility to get our work done this year.  There are no excuses for further delay or extensions, and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity.