Recent news has centered around a couple of transportation bills--HR7 and MAP-21. The best description is that sausage-making has never been uglier.
The House was up first
For much of the last quarter, there was a lot of outcry over what the House bill planned to do with transportation. In other words, a completely anti-transit bill that would have made a mockery of any mode of transit not related to highway spending. The bill proved to be so unpopular that a handful of House Republicans rebelled against Speaker Boehner.
Then, the Senate
The upper chamber countered with a bill that would have been much more favorable to transit and would have implemented a new transportation bill since the last one expired 2 1/2 years ago. The end result is that the Senate was countered by the House passing yet another extension.
What wasn't being reported
The two bills presented a paradox that no one seemed to notice: A horrible bill with language that encouraged competition versus a great bill that would have been detrimental to intercity rail as a whole (Source #1)
HR7 would have reduced regulatory burdens and streamlined the delivery process for rail projects while MAP-21 would have disproportionately tilted the field in favor of Amtrak that to the point of restoring a statutory monopoly in both the intercity and commuter rail industries (Sources #2, #3 & #4). That action showed me that some True Believers are upset over Amtrak's recent losses of commuter rail contracts and used the Senate to get back at agencies that may one day replace Amtrak as the operator of state corridors. This whole thing was a matter of the cure being no better than the disease.
What needs to be done
For starters, cut out the anti-competitive language and amend the liability burdens so that it doesn't cost an arm and a leg for a newcomer to launch operations. Second, get the FRA on the case and tell them to impose common sense equipment requirements instead of forcing everyone to produce bulky cars. Finally, pass a real transportation bill that resembles MAP-21 instead of passing these rinky-dink extensions.