Labor pushes for highway-mass transit bill, GOP blocks

WASHINGTON – Organized labor and congressional Democrats continued their push for a highway-mass transit bill – even trundling a flatbed truck festooned with a huge roll of duct tape through southern Ohio – but the House’s ruling Republicans apparently decided to create a train wreck, instead.

That’s because the GOP on Mar. 21 rejected an easy way to solve the problem, by approving a two-year $109 billion bill the Democratic-run Senate passed on a bipartisan 74-22 vote the week before. Leaders decided not to even permit a vote on it.

The reason? The House leaders won’t say so, but they halted the Senate bill precisely because Democrats, including President Obama, support it.

Deadline for passing a new highway-mass transit bill – even a short-term one to keep current projects going – is Mar. 31. The House GOP say they want a short-term bill while lawmakers try to construct a longer, preferably five-year, measure.

The bill is important, because it would approve highway and mass transit construction money for the next two years, creating tens of thousands of jobs. The jobless rate in construction is near 14 percent. And the Senate bill includes a “buy America” requirement by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, with a strong push from the Steelworkers.

“This two-year bill, if enacted, is a major down payment on our vision to make this the generation that rebuilds our surface transportation network and gives public transportation systems and their workers new tools to survive economic downturns,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said.

The Laborers took a 15-foot “Emergency Bridge Repair Team”  flatbed truck onto Ohio roads, starting Mar. 21, for a weeklong tour to try to get the GOP to approve the Senate legislation. The truck carries an enormous roll of duct tape, symbolizing what the union says is the GOP solution to fixing the nation’s crumbling bridges and roads.

The truck is rolling through the Ohio district of GOP House Speaker John Boehner, among others, heading from Cincinnati towards Columbus and Dayton.

Its first stop was Cincinnati’s Brent Space Bridge, which civil engineers say is one of 6,400 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in Ohio alone.

“If extremist Republicans in Congress have their way, we will need a whole fleet of trucks and a lot more duct tape,” said Randy McGuire, marketing director for the Ohio Laborers’ District Council told a press conference at the Cincinnati bridge. “Instead of passing a bipartisan bill that will protect bridges and jobs like the Senate has done, the House continues on the path of partisan politics and is putting public safety at risk.”




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.