The Senate gave hope of a such an outcome when it approved on Wednesday a two-year reauthorization bill that would funnel $109 billion to states and communities for mass transit and bridge-and-road projects, many of which have been deferred for years. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, mustered enough votes to defeat several destructive amendments while approving a very good one.
The bad amendments, all from Republicans, would have: undercut Clean Air Act protections against mercury and other toxic pollutants from industrial boilers; opened up all of America’s outer continental shelf, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling; and overturned President Obama’s wise decision to delay the environmentally risky Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The good amendment — a victory for conservation that drew substantial Republican support — would dedicate 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP for the gulf oil spill to environmental restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. It would also authorize $700 million a year for two years for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the open space program that Congress has shortchanged for years.
Getting the House to move in a similar direction will be harder. Its transportation bill — a five-year, $260 billion measure — has gone nowhere, which is just as well. The bill would have eliminated guaranteed public financing for mass transit and relied on highly speculative revenue from oil and gas drilling.
Speaker John Boehner said last week that he was ready to take up the Senate measure, or something close to it. That could be a tactic to spur his colleagues to devise their own alternative. But accepting the Senate bill would be exactly the right thing to do.