House passes H.R. 3819; Boxer stands alone in her corner

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The House of Representatives on Oct. 27, 2015 approved H.R. 3819, The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, legislation that funds and extends the authorization for federal highway and transit programs through Nov. 20, but more important, extends the deadline for implementation of Positive Train Control by at least three years. The bill now goes to the Senate, which has two days to consider it—with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) vehemently opposed.

Boxer’s attempt at knocking down the extension on the Congressionally imposed Dec. 31, 2015 deadline will probably last as about long as Sonny Liston in his second heavyweight fight against Muhammad Ali in 1965, according to Washington D.C. Capitol Hill publication Politico.

“Getting [H.R. 3819] through the lower chamber isn’t expected to be the hard part,” Politico noted prior to the House’s approval of the bill. “In the Senate, Barbara Boxer is still opposing the inclusion of a multiyear extension of the deadline for railroads to implement PTC. The senator is insisting she can forge a deal with Republicans to extend the PTC deadline for ‘months,’ rather than through 2018.”

“Boxer says she’s confident she can negotiate a deal in the two days the Senate will have to consider the patch,” Politico reported. ‘I’m trying to resolve it and give a reasonable extension—months, not years,’ she told reporters [on Oct. 26] ‘Why pull this out? It’s because [railroads] don’t want the scrutiny, and it’s a special-interest earmark.’ But if the California Democrat gets her way, the Senate will have to amend the legislation, sending it back to the House for another vote, almost certainly leading to a lapse in contract authority [included in surface transportation legislation] after [Oct. 29].”

Although Boxer seems confident she can persuade others in the Senate to join her in blocking what she says “amounts to a sweetheart carve-out,” her Republican counterpart and one key Democrat are dismissing her attempt, Politico said. “I think Barbara’s kind of by herself on this,” said Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that even though delaying the PTC extension would provide “extra impetus” for enacting a long-term transportation bill this year, a nationwide rail shutdown, which the railroads have warned would happen should the deadline not be extended, is an “emergency” that requires immediate action. “We’ve got to be practical about this and work this phased deal,” he said.

(Editor’s note: Sonny Liston is widely believed to have taken a dive when Ali hit him with the infamous “phantom punch.” Halfway through the first round of their May 25, 1965 bout in Lewiston, Maine, Liston threw a weak left jab. Ali, off balance, countered with a short right hand to Liston’s left cheekbone that traveled no more than a few inches. The normally indestructible Liston crumpled to the canvas as if he were giving a safety demonstration on how to fall without getting hurt. Liston did what he did, it’s believed, because he and his wife and child had received death threats from people who told him he needed to deliberately lose the match against Ali.)

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