Portman balks at bill: Portman, Brown split vote on transportation bill

Ohio’s two U.S. senators agree Ohio’s and the nation’s highway system needs major repairs and upgrades, but they split their vote on a two-year, $109 billion federal transportation bill which passed the Senate on Wednesday.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman supported the bill’s aim, but he balked at increasing the national deficit to fund the infrastructure improvements bill. He was one of 22 senators to vote against the bill.

“Of concern to me is that frankly at a time of unprecedented debt and these more than $1 trillion deficits, Congress passed this legislation and broke the rules with regard to spending restraints,” Portman said Thursday in a media teleconference in regard to the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.” “With the budget control act that was passed last August, Congress agreed to put in place certain caps on spending, and unfortunately in regard to this piece of legislation the United States Senate decided to not stay in compliance with the budget rules we just set last year.”

He said he hopes the bill can and expects the bill to be changed by the U.S. House of Representatives to bring the bill in compliance with 2011 budget rules.

He also noted amendments he made would be passed to enable the federal government to put more money toward roads and bridges in Ohio, but they did not garner enough votes.

Portman favored a provision to authorize the Department of Energy to transfer up to $150 million from its budget to cover research and development costs for the American Centrifuge project in Piketon.

“We also are trying to get a loan guarantee from the federal government and we continue to believe the loan guarantee should be improved,” Portman said. “The project application has now been in for three years and that is more than ample time to figure out how to get the loan guarantee for this important national security and energy security project.

“In the meantime, we have to make sure the technology continues to be developed in ways that we can keep employees at the site,” he said. “The Department of Energy has indicated they are willing for us to have a short term R&D, research and development, program.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was one of 73 senators to vote in favor of the bill, said Ohio would lose an estimated $1.4 billion and approximately 50,000 Ohio jobs would be in jeopardy if the Senate version of the bill does not pass.

“Investments in road construction projects and bridge repairs put Ohioans back to work while promoting economic growth,” Brown said. “When companies decide where to locate, expand and invest, transportation infrastructure is a critical factor in the decision. That’s why it’s so important that the House passes this bipartisan bill.”

Brown warned House members to pass the bill and not to move forward with their proposal which would provide $94 million less for highways in Ohio. The House bill would also put in jeopardy $160 million in funds for Ohio transit agencies, a policy put in place during President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

As part of the federal transportation bill, Brown was able to gain passage of his “Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act,” which he first introduced in 2007. The bill’s aim is to reduce the number of tour bus crashes and related fatalities and injuries.

The amendment would increase and expand safety requirements for motorcoach drivers and motorcoach companies.

The U.S. legislator first introduced the bill following the fatal tour bus crash carrying 33 Bluffton University baseball players. Seven people died in the crash, including five players.