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Transportation clash

From NBC's Katelin Schartz
Standing together -- at one point grasping a shovel -- House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN)

and ranking member John Mica (R-FL)

today unveiled their plan for a mammoth six-year, $450 billion surface transportation bill, setting up a clash with an Obama administration that opposes legislation of that size.

The Transportation Committee bill is nearly twice the size of the legislation that was passed into law in 2005 and expires in September 2009. The 80-page blueprint the committee released highlights key aspects of the legislation, such as the consolidation and termination of 75 federal transportation programs and the creation of new programs to design, finance, and create light-rail projects -- all of which aim to maximize returns on transportation investments. 

The big question: How do you finance the $450 billion? Oberstar won't talk about where that money will come from, although one possibility is raising the federal gasoline tax -- which could be a tough sell in this economic climate. Per the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oberstar said, "You can't talk investments and dollar amounts until you have something to show the public." Questions on funding will begin to be answered as the House Ways and Means Committee starts work on the legislation in July.

The Obama Transportation Department has instead proposed a smaller 18-month reauthorization, and opposes any hike in the gasoline tax. "I recognize that there will be concerns raised about this approach," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement released yesterday. "However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation."

He concluded, "We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term."