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A crazy week behind us and more big days ahead
Tuesday evening, I rode home from work in shorts. It was the last day of January, well after dark, and the temperature was still over 60 degrees. To be honest, though, the weather is the least crazy thing that’s been happening here in Washington this week.
We had less than two days to read an 864-page highway bill – the American Infrastructure and Energy Jobs Act – before a Committee mark-up on Thursday at 9:00am. Not only did the proposed bill strip all funding for bicycling and walking programs, but it tore at the very heart of existing provisions ensuring bicyclists and pedestrians at least have a seat at the table when transportation decisions are made at the state and local level.
Together with our colleagues in the America Bikes coalition, we had anticipated the funding attacks and had been working with Republican allies on the committee to prepare an amendment to restore funding. We had not anticipated the fury with which this initiative was greeted by Committee Chairman John Mica, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor – they evidently worked hard to dissuade their colleagues from supporting the bi-partisan amendment.
Chairman Mica and the House leadership succeeded in blocking a pro-bike amendment to the House transportation bill, but we made them work for it.
Representatives Petri (WI) and Johnson (IL) were rock stars. Despite the incredible pressure, they held firm and even added a third Republican when the final vote came, Frank LoBiondo (NJ). Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) joined the amendment and helped ensure every Democrat voted for it; fiery support coming from Reps Rahall (WV) and DeFazio (OR). Although we lost by just two votes, I think we left a big impression.
That was in large part due to the thousands of you (18,000 e-mails sent out through our on-line advocacy system alone, tens of thousands more through our allies) who called or e-mailed your Members of Congress on the Committee. This fantastic support made a difference. Several Republican members were truly on the fence right up to the last minute, because they had heard so loudly from their constituents. Thank you for taking the time to do this.
So what happens now? Well, the bill was finally approved in Committee and is currently scheduled to be debated on the floor of the House during the week of February 13 – it is still a very partisan bill and trying to pass an amendment is going to be extremely tough, should we go that route.
Meanwhile, the Senate MAP-21 bill threatens to spring back into life next week – which means we have to switch gears and ensure a strong “local control” provision is included to enable agencies to access funds for bicycling and walking projects. Senator Ben Cardin is our champion here, and if things do start to move as we expect we will need your help again.
(We honestly don’t control the timing of these things and really appreciate your patience and support as we send out bursts of e-mails asking for your help!)
If – and it’s a big if – both House and Senate complete their bills, including provisions to pay for them, they’ll try to combine them and get them to the President before March 31. Failing that, we will once again be looking at an extension of the current programs, but we won’t be able to let our guard down for a second: we have been warned to expect more attacks on dedicated funding for bicycling and walking programs.
So the madness will continue.