The transit proposal, along with the changes in the way transportation projects must comply with environmental regulations and other provisions in the bill, elicited howls from environmentalists. The Natural Resources Defense Council labeled the measure "the worst transportation bill ever."
Labor unions are unhappy with several provisions, as well. Transportation bills have "never been a grab bag for ideological attack, but unfortunately that's what it has become," said Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department.
The bill does have the support of a wide range of transportation-related industries and industries that are dependent on shipping their goods by road. At a news conference earlier this week to unveil the bill, Mica gave shout outs to industry lobbyists who worked with Republicans as they drafted the bill, including the American Trucking Associations and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
A provision sought by the trucking industry and shippers that would have allowed triple-trailer trucks weighing as much as 126,000 pounds on federal highways was eliminated from the bill during Thursday's meeting. Safety advocates said they were going to ask the White House to issue a veto threat if the provision were retained.
Lawmakers could go a long way toward solving their money problem by increasing gas taxes, but neither party has the will for that during an election year when many voters are still suffering from a sour economy.
In the Senate, lawmakers have crafted a bipartisan, two-year bill that spends $109 billion. But senators have also repeatedly delayed disclosing how they plan to make up a $12 billion shortfall under their plan.
Mica defended his bill as take a large step toward many changes conservatives have sought. The Senate bill, he said in an interview, is a "disaster" because it only lasts two years and leaves the highway program broke at the end of that time.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., co-author of the Senate bill, said she was disappointed Mica didn't "reach out to Democrats" when writing his bill, but she remains hopeful that Congress can pass a final bill before the end of March.
"Although there are some real red flags over there, they've also done some good things as well," she said.
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