Thursday, March 1, 2012

Where the rubber meets the road

With the future of transportation hanging in the balance, the U.S. Senate began debating its two-year, $109 billion authorization bill on Thursday, March 1. And with 200-plus amendments to consider, which one did they take up as their first order of business? Why, one dealing with women’s reproductive rights and the moral conscience of health care providers, of course.

Welcome to today’s world of politics, where nothing, not even the Senate’s so-called bipartisan transportation bill, is spared from partisanship and political agendas.

It’s not surprising that senators would burn the first two hours of debate on a federal transportation bill talking about health care. It’s a divisive topic, after all, and lawmakers are positioning themselves for the presidential election.

The latest sidetrack that has nothing to do with transportation arose from an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, to allow health care providers to refuse certain coverage or services to a patient based on the provider’s morals.


That means if a doctor, insurer or pharmacist disagrees with a patient’s lifestyle or the type of treatment involved, that provider could deny coverage. Examples of treatments that could have been affected include contraceptive medicine, flu shots, children’s vaccinations, HIV tests, or post-natal care for single mothers. It would be up to the provider to decide.

Thankfully, the rubber finally met the road and senators voted 51-48 to deny the amendment. The vote was very close, drawn mostly down party lines with a few crossovers.

It’s disappointing that lawmakers continue to bog down the transportation bill – or other bills such as appropriations, continuing resolutions and last year’s debt-ceiling debate – with amendments that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Some lawmakers don’t even care what type of legislation they attach something to, as long as they get time to make their speeches to build themselves up and disparage their opponents.

If it wasn’t Mr. Blunt and his amendment in this case, it would have been someone else and something else.

That’s what’s so disappointing about the current climate. Until a few years ago, transportation was always hailed as a bipartisan issue. Don’t get me wrong. Lawmakers didn’t sit around singing campfire songs, but the big wheel always kept turning.

We’re currently stuck at a crossroads, and have been for some time, as lawmakers turn everything into a partisan rally. No wonder the public’s confidence in Congress is so low.

It’s time to once again make transportation a priority and lose the partisan tactics – Republican and Democrat – that threaten to derail the transportation authorization process.

Transportation has been running on fumes since 2009, and the nation needs a new authorization bill. It shouldn’t matter who the president is, or who leads the House or Senate, or what people’s morals are. We pay taxes to support roads and bridges, and we deserve good roads and bridges – not political games.