We need a president who will allow transportation to be funded

By Sen. Tom Daschle
Guest Columnist

Transportation has, by and large, always been a bipartisan endeavor. After all, our economy, our infrastructure and our nation’s families need and deserve a good transportation bill – one that will create good jobs and provide the investments in our nation’s infrastructure that are so desperately needed.

Given the need to strengthen our economy and create new jobs, it is particularly unfortunate that we have not completed the long-overdue transportation reauthorization bill – legislation that expired at the end of September 2003.

The inability to get this bill completed on time has hamstrung states, which have been left unable to plan how roads and bridges will be built and how they can maintain their transportation infrastructure. In fact, it is estimated that more than 100,000 jobs have been lost due to this delay. Each month that we don’t complete work brings even more job losses.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In February this year, the Senate passed S 1072, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act. It was passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 76 to 21. The Senate bill would authorize $318 billion over six years – and would be paid for without increasing gas taxes.

In addition to the new investments, the Senate bill would create more than 1.7 million jobs – new, good jobs for Americans who are looking for work. In my home state of South Dakota, that bill would have meant more than 6,500 new jobs, and a 38 percent funding increase over current TEA-21 levels.

Stunningly to both Democrats and Republicans, President Bush threatened a veto of the bill. This was hardly the answer that Republicans and Democrats alike were hoping for from the administration.

It was hardly the response that our economy and the infrastructure deficit that we have in this country cry out for.

After another bipartisan bill – that would have been funded at the $375 billion level – was rejected by the Bush administration and the Republican House leadership; the House of Representatives passed HR 3550, the Transportation Equity Act. The House, however, only authorized $284 billion over six years, and it is not fully paid for. Even this pared down, and in the opinion of many experts, insufficient, bill is being rejected by the Bush administration.

This resistance is inexplicable. Nearly 400 organizations representing the gamut of transportation interests all support getting a bill done at the Senate level. The Chamber of Commerce, the Associated General Contractors, the governors, the state legislators ... the list goes on and on – all support getting a bill done with adequate investment levels.

What is clear to many of us is that unless the White House and the Republican leadership in the House release their stranglehold on this process, we will not have a transportation bill this year.

By continuing to say no, President Bush jeopardizes 1.7 million new jobs in our nation and risks providing the needed improvements to our transportation infrastructure. We need more than a president saying he will veto a final transportation bill with either the Senate or House spending levels.

We need a president who will handle transportation the way we have always handled transportation, not as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, but an American issue – one that is vitally important to America’s economy, America’s mobility and America’s families.

The work you do every day keeps our economic engine running. It’s long past time for Washington to provide you with a transportation bill that meets your needs – and those of all Americans.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, is the minority leader in the U.S. Senate. He served in the U.S. House from 1978 until 1986, when he was elected to the Senate. Before his political career, he served three years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command.