Category Archives: The Hill

House unveils three-week highway funding patch

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
10/23/15

Republican leaders in the House on Friday evening unveiled a measure to extend federal transportation funding for three weeks in an effort to prevent a highway-funding shutdown.

The measure (H.R. 3819) would extend federal transportation spending — currently set to expire Oct. 29 — until Nov. 20.

GOP leaders in the House have said the temporary patch will provide time for them to finish work on a six-year, $325 billion transportation funding bill that was approved Thursday by the chamber’s Transportation Committee.

“The committee’s overwhelming approval of the STRR Act today is a positive step forward for our Nation’s transportation system and our economy,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in statement after the Thursday vote, even as he readied another temporary infrastructure patch.
“I look forward to House action on the bill and going to conference with the Senate as soon as possible,” Shuster continued about the mutliyear highway bill, which is known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.

GOP leaders said Friday that the three-week highway funding package could come up for a vote on the floor of the House as early as Tuesday, which give the Senate two days to take up the patch before the scheduled expiration of the current transportation funding law.

The measure does not include any new money, because lawmakers included enough road funding in three-month transportation bill that was approved in July to last until the end of the year in case they needed more time to finish work on a multiyear fix. The earlier patch is scheduled to expire Thursday, necessitating the new measure that is now being introduced in the House.

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that last longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.

President Obama has also decried the number of temporary patches, which transportation advocates say hamstring state governments who are working on long-term construction projects. But the White House signaled Friday that Obama will sign the latest temporary road funding patch.

“The unfortunate reality is Congress will need to pass another short-term” measure, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday afternoon.

The Senate has already passed a bill that includes three years of guaranteed highway funding in July, and lawmakers in the upper chamber have said they expect to be able to get a multi-year highway bill to Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving.

“Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement after the House panel’s vote.

“With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving,” Inhofe continued. “This will allow for our nation to avoid the Highway Trust Fund hitting a dangerously low level, which DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx warned would significantly affect the 2016 construction season.”

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to stop making payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement.

The temporary transportation funding bill also includes a provision that moves a Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install an automated train navigation system known as Positive Train Control (PTC) to the end of 2018. The automated train extension had previously been attached to the House’s multiyear highway bill after railroads threatened to partially shutdown many of the nation’s railways.

-Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/257992-house-unveils-three-week-highway-funding-patch

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Senators say highway bill could reach Obama by Thanksgiving

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
10/23/15

A pair of senators who have pushed for a multiyear highway bill say such a proposal could reach President Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving.

The Senate passed a bill that includes three years of guaranteed highway funding in July, and the House has now begun working on a six-year, $325 billion infrastructure package of its own that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved Thursday.

Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) say it is possible for lawmakers to get a long-term highway bill to Obama by the end of November, now that the House highway bill has cleared its first committee test.

“Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period,” Inhofe said in a statement after the panel’s vote.

“With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving,” he continued. “This will allow for our nation to avoid the Highway Trust Fund hitting a dangerously low level, which DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx warned would significantly affect the 2016 construction season.”

Boxer agreed. “We are moving forward bit by bit toward our goal, a long-term authorization of the surface transportation bill,” she said. “We have no time to waste and I urge an immediate conference.”

Lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee have touted their highway bill vote as major breakthrough in an infrastructure funding logjam that has lasted for a decade. They have said that they will have to wait for the Ways and Means Committee to identify ways to offset the costs of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act before it can move forward to the floor of the lower chamber, however.

“The committee’s overwhelming approval of the STRR Act today is a positive step forward for our Nation’s transportation system and our economy,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa) said in a statement after Thursday’s vote. “I look forward to House action on the bill and going to conference with the Senate as soon as possible.”

The timing of the pay-fors emerging from the Ways and Means Committee has been complicated by Rep. Paul Ryan’s bid for speaker of the House. Ryan is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, but he has been drafted into the speaker’s race.

Republicans in the House have been facing pressure to pass a multiyear highway bill since they rejected an infrastructure funding measure approved by Senate this summer. They balked at that bill, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act because it contained six years’ worth of transportation commitments but only three years’ worth of funding.

By contrast, the highway bill that was approved by the House Transportation Committee on Thursday would require lawmakers to pass new legislation to “unlock” additional funding after the initial three years, instead of guaranteeing it in advance.

Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term highway bill. The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax take only brings in $34 billion annually.

Both chambers’ highway bills would maintain the federal government’s current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation. To reach that level of spending, Congress will have to come up with approximately $16 billion per year to supplement revenue from the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993.

To close the gap long enough to pay for three years’ worth of road funding, the Senate approved a package of approximately $47 billion of offsets.

The Senate package relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and directing fees from the Transportation Security Administration and customs processing. House leaders balked at the proposals, opting instead for a three-month extension with $8 billion of offsets that is now set to expire on Oct. 29.

Boxer and Inhofe have argued that their version of the highway bill was the product of intense bipartisan negotiations, pointing to its broad support when it came up on the floor of the upper chamber in July.

“On July 30th, the Senate passed the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE Act), a six-year authorization of our surface transportation programs with three years of funding, by a vote of 65 to 34,” Boxer, who is the top ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Boxer added that the transportation funding problem “requires all of us to join hands across the aisle to ensure we pass a multi-year surface transportation bill and do it in a way that is funded.”

GOP leaders in the House, meanwhile, pointed to the Thursday markup of their version of the highway bill as evidence of the lower chamber’s commitment to passing a long-term infrastructure bill, even as they admitted another temporary extension is likely before lawmakers can work out a bicameral agreement on a longer-term highway bill.

“A safe, efficient network of roads, bridges, and public transit means that we spend less time in traffic, transportation costs for goods and services remain lower, and more jobs are created throughout the economy,” Shuster said during a hearing on Thursday.

“That’s what this bill does in a way that I believe ensures a strong and appropriate federal role in surface transportation, enables our country to remain competitive and improves Americans’ quality of life,” he continued.

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to stop making payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/257880-senators-say-highway-bill-could-reach-obama-by-thanksgiving

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House panel approves $325B highway bill

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
10/22/15

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years while Congress scrambles to prevent a loss of infrastructure spending at the end of the month.

The measure, titled the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs — but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years.

The committee pushed the process forward ahead of an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing federal transportation funding.
Supporters of the measure said Thursday’s committee vote is the first step toward Congress passing a long-term highway bill for the first time in 10 years.

“The STRR Act is fiscally responsible and authorizes federal surface transportation programs for six years,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said at the start of Thursday’s hearing.

Republicans in the House have been facing pressure to pass a multiyear highway bill since they rejected an infrastructure funding measure that was approved by Senate this summer. They balked at that bill, in part, because it contained six years’ worth of transportation commitments but only three years’ worth of funding.

By contrast, the highway bill that was approved by the House Transportation Committee on Thursday would require lawmakers to pass new legislation to “unlock” additional funding after the initial three years, instead of guaranteeing it in advance.

Both chambers’ highway bills would maintain the federal government’s current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation. To reach that level of spending, however, Congress will have to come up with approximately $16 billion per year to supplement revenue from the federal gas tax.

Democrats in the House have pushed for an increase in federal infrastructure spending through either a gas tax increase or an infusion of cash from taxing oversees corporate profits.

They lamented the flat levels of transportation funding in the House highway bill, even though it has been endorsed by the top Democrats on the Transportation Committee as the best possible solution.

“America’s infrastructure is falling apart, and our country is falling behind our economic competitors. We won’t be able to catch up if we simply keep our inadequate infrastructure investment on cruise control,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who introduced a bill that calls for using revenue from corporate tax reform to pay for several years of roads and transit projects.

“For years we have had a major funding deficit on infrastructure and the old politics and the old answers have failed us,” said Delaney, whose bill would pump $170 billion into the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund. “If we continue with baseline funding, in another six years we’ll be in even worse shape.”

Republicans noted that Democratic leaders on the committee have endorsed the multi-year highway bill.

“This bill was developed with subcommittee Chairman [Sam] Graves [R-Mo.], ranking member [Peter] DeFazio [D-Ore.] and ranking member [Eleanor Holmes] Norton [D-D.C.], and includes input from both sides of the aisle and the stakeholder community,” Shuster said. “I appreciate everyone’s efforts to get us to this point.”

Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term extension. The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax take only brings in $34 billion annually, however.

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap, and lawmakers on the Transportation Committee have said that the Ways and Means Committee will have to identify a set of offsets for the new highway bill before it can move forward.

Transportation advocates complain that Congress has not passed an infrastructure measure that lasts longer than two years since 2005.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the annual gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length being sought by the Obama administration and transportation supporters.

Lawmakers will likely have to pass another patch to give Congress time to conference on the highway bill because of the approaching Oct. 29 deadline.

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to begin cutting back on payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement on a highway bill extension this month.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/257797-house-panel-approves-six-year-325b-highway-bill

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Christie’s 2016 bid dogged by cancellation of NYC rail tunnel

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
8/5/15

As he runs for president in 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is being dogged by a decision early in his gubernatorial term to cancel construction of a rail tunnel between his state and New York City.

Transportation advocates have said the tunnel, which would have carried Amtrak and New Jersey Transit commuter trains under the Hudson River, would have eased commutes between New Jersey and New York City.

Christie has said recently on the campaign trail that he would be willing to revisit the train capacity issue, but transportation advocates are accusing him of changing his tune now that he is trying to woo voters nationally.

“New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says as president he’d move aggressively on Amtrak’s long delayed Hudson River rail tunnel project — yes, the same tunnel project he killed as governor five years ago,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind wrote in an op-ed in The Huffington Post on Wednesday.

“While cynics (note: I’m a cynic) question motives here and wonder just how much hypocrisy we’ll have to endure in this presidential election, I’ll take what I can get,” Wytkind continued.

Killing the rail tunnel, known as the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, was one of Christie’s first high-profile decisions after he was elected in 2009 in a surprise win over then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

The project was originally projected to cost $8.7 billion, but it faced cost overruns. When Christie cancelled it, the price tag was up to $11 billion.

Christie cast the decision at the time as an example of the type of fiscal responsibility that he promised voters in the Garden State when they elected him governor.

“Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our state is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns,”he said in an October 2010 statement. “The ARC project costs far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford and the only prudent move is to end this project.”

Amtrak officials have identified expanding train capacity between New Jersey and New York as one of the company’s most pressing needs.

“The century-old tunnels require constant attention and maintenance, but the volume of traffic is simply too high to permit maintenance and repair work during weekdays,” Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman wrote in a February letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden detailing Amtrak’s 2016 budget requests, noting that the tunnels were first opened in 1910.

“Since 1999, Amtrak has kept the tunnels in serviceable condition only by shutting one of the Hudson or East River tubes on weekends for 55 hours to permit access for essential maintenance,” Boardman continued. “These weekend closures severely constrain service to the nation’s busiest rail station.”

Transportation department officials in the Obama administration have also sought to meet with Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) about the condition of the rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey.

“The condition of the trans-Hudson tunnels is a major threat to the region and to our nation’s transportation system,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote in a July 27 letter to Christie and Cuomo requesting a meeting this month.

“Our administration has long been committed to building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River,” Foxx continued. “President Obama and former Secretary Ray LaHood pledged $3 billion to the ARC tunnel five years ago. The project was cancelled, the funds were directed elsewhere, and the prospect of a new tunnel has languished.

“It is increasingly clear that the problems of this crumbling asset will not go away, and we remain committed to advancing needed repairs and replacements,” he added.

Foxx said the Obama administration is now supporting a new proposal from Amtrak called the Gateway project to build two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River to double the train capacity between New Jersey and New York.

Christie’s gubernatorial office notes that the ARC and Gateway projects are different rail tunnel proposals. The 2016 hopeful’s aides have said the cancelled tunnel would not have been taken trains directly to Amtrak’s New York City station, even if had been approved.

Christie has blamed Amtrak recently for delays on New Jersey Transit this summer, as rail traffic between New York and New Jersey has backed up.

“NJ Transit commuters were victimized by nearly an entire week of extreme delays and cancellations for one reason only: Amtrak’s indifference to New Jersey commuters and its abject neglect of the infrastructure that New Jersey and our entire region relies upon,” he said in a July 24 statement, after being bombarded with complaints about train delays from commuters.

The AFL-CIO’s Wytkind argued in his Wednesday op-ed that it is Christie’s 2010 decision to cancel the Hudson River tunnel project that is exacerbating problems with the flow of trains now.

“The case for building this tunnel is a no-brainer today and was a no-brainer when it was first proposed,” Wytkind wrote.

“Studies going back more than 20 years tell us that time isn’t on our side as these tunnels deteriorate,” he continued. “The current tunnels under the Hudson going into New York City are over 100 years old and in sad shape: capacity is near 100 percent, delays are on the rise and ridership projections for Amtrak and NJ Transit are on a steady upward trajectory.”

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/250353-christie-dogged-by-rail-tunnel-cancellation-in-2016-bid

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Senate sends three-month highway bill to Obama

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
7/30/15

The Senate on Thursday approved an $8 billion extension of federal transportation funding, sending it to President Obama’s desk with just one day to go before the nation’s road and transit spending expires.

The bill, which extends infrastructure spending until Oct. 29, passed in a 91-4 vote, pushing the debate into the fall.

Obama, who has advocated for long-term extension of highway funding, is expected to sign the patch to prevent an interruption in funding during the busy summer construction season.

The vote Thursday came after the Senate passed its preferred fix, a six-year highway bill negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
House Republicans refused to take up that bill and left town on Wednesday, forcing the Senate to accept the three-month stopgap.

Republican leaders in the Senate sought to downplay the squabbling between the chambers as they punted the highway debate to the fall.

“We all want the House to have the space to develop its own bill, because we all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in a conference later this year, “McConnell said ahead of the vote.

McConnell touted the earlier vote to approve three years of funding as a victory.

“Many thought we’d never get there, but we have indeed,” he said, saying the Senate’s long-term highway bill “doesn’t raises taxes by a penny.”

“This is more than just another accomplishment for the Senate. It’s a win for our country because the bill would cut red tape and streamline regulation. It would modernize infrastructure and advance research and innovation,” McConnell said.

Democrats in the Senate complained about the House’s rejection of its long-term highway bill even as the chamber approved the temporary patch.

“This has been a long and winding road to get the point where we can pass a transportation bill that is a very good bill, that is very bipartisan,” said Boxer, who is retiring from the Senate in 2017.

“This person says, ‘I don’t like the process.’ And this one says, ‘I don’t like the pay-fors,’ ” Boxer continued. “But we know if we run into a construction worker who is unemployed and we say, ‘Well, we didn’t vote for this because we didn’t like the process,’ he would say, or she would say, ‘I need a paycheck.’ ”

The fight over road funding has cut across both parties, with Senate and House Republicans pitted against one another when it comes the idea — pushed strongly by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — of trying to negotiate a highway bill paid for by tax reform.

House Republicans earlier this month approved a five-month extension of highway funding, seeking to buy time for negotiations with the White House over a long-term bill that would be paid for with changes to tax policy.

But rather than take up the five-month bill, McConnell quickly brought his long-term plan to the floor over the objections of Democrats who complained they did not have enough time to read the measure.

Republicans leaders in the Senate predicted the House would be amenable to their long-term bill once lawmakers return from their summer recess.

“I think the House will end up taking up our bill,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, predicted ahead of the Thursday votes.

“In fact, I think a lot of the staff people are working on that right now over on the side,” he continued.

Inhofe said it was important for the Senate to have also passed the long-term bill to “encourage” the House to act.

“If we don’t pass the DRIVE [Developing Roadway Infrastructure for a Vibrant Economy] Act out of this chamber, then [what] we’re doing is reinforcing current law,” he said. “What is current law? Current law is short-term extensions.”

Congress is grappling with a funding shortfall for transportation that is estimated to be around $16 billion per year. Since 2005, lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasted longer than two years.

Passage of the three-month highway bill means that the Export-Import Bank’s charter will remain expired through the August recess. The three-month bill sent to Obama on Thursday does not include language on Ex-Im.

Aside from the highway extension, the temporary patch includes a provision allowing the Veterans Affairs Department to shift $3 billion within the agency to shore up a budget shortfall so hospitals and other facilities don’t close in August, aides said.

The legislation also would ensure that veterans with service-related disabilities are able to use health saving accounts.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/249818-senate-sends-three-month-highway-bill-to-obama

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House passes three-month highway bill

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
7/29/15

The House voted Wednesday to approve an $8 billion bill that would extend federal transportation funding until the end of October, sending it to the Senate with just two days to go before the nation’s road and transit spending expires.

The bill passed in a 385-34 vote, with Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) voting present. Senators are expected to accept the patch to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure spending during the busy summer construction season.

The House adjourned for the traditional August recess after the vote, forcing the Senate’s hand.
But senators are planning to stay in Washington next week, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to finish a six-year transportation bill to jumpstart conference negotiations on a final bill.

Republican leaders sought to downplay the squabbling between the chambers as they punted the highway debate to the fall.

“Sen. McConnell and I, while we have a disagreement over this bill — we’ve had one — we both want to get to a long-term highway bill,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said ahead of the vote.

“And Sen. McConnell and I have, frankly, worked very closely trying to minimize the differences,” he continued. “And so I’m confident as we get into this fall we’re going to have … pretty smooth sailing.”

The fight over road funding has cut across both parties, with Senate and House Republicans pitted against one another, and Democrats also divided in the Senate.

House Republicans earlier this month approved a five-month funding extension, seeking to buy time for negotiations with the White House over a long-term bill funded by tax reform.

But rather than take up the five-month bill, McConnell negotiated a long-term funding measure with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and quickly brought it to the floor.

While that measure is still expected to pass the Senate, it got a chilly reception from the House, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) refusing to bring it up for a vote.

The short-term funding measure that was approved on Wednesday would continue highway funding until Oct. 29 — setting up a new deadline for Congress when they return to Washington in September.

“We’ll conference the legislation we pass with what the House passes and then send a unified bill to President Obama,” McConnell said in a floor speech Wednesday.

“In the meantime, we’ll work with our friends in the House to give them the space they need to develop a multiyear highway bill,” McConnell continued. “We’ll take up that bill once the House sends it to us, and we’ll continue working in the interim to finish our own multiyear highway bill, a bill that’s fiscally responsible and won’t raise taxes by a penny.”

McConnell also sought to downplay the infighting between Republicans over the highway bill this week as he acquiesced to the House’s demand for a temporary patch.

“Late nights of vigorous legislating and sometimes unpredictable outcomes might make some reach for the aspirin, but these are the hallmarks of a functioning Congress,” he said.

“The push and pull between different parties, different members and different chambers is all just part of the democratic rhythm,” McConnell continued. “That’s especially true when you’re talking about a measure as complicated and consequential as a multiyear highway bill.”

Congress is grappling with a funding shortfall for transportation that is estimated to be around $16 billion per year. Since 2005, lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasted longer than two years.

The decision to fund highways for three months also means the Export-Import Bank’s charter will remain expired through the August recess.

The Senate highway bill includes a four-year renewal of the bank, which has run into opposition from conservatives but is backed by the White House, Democrats and a portion of the GOP.

But the House’s three-month bill does not include Ex-Im, leaving the bank in limbo.

The House patch includes language allowing the Veterans Affairs Department to shift $3 billion within the agency to shore up a budget shortfall so hospitals and other facilities don’t close in August, aides said.

The legislation also would ensure that veterans with service-related disabilities could use health saving accounts.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/249685-house-approves-three-month-highway-bill

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Senate pressing ahead with long-term highway funding bill

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
7/28/15

The Senate is pressing ahead on Tuesday with its effort to pass a long-term extension of federal highway bill that is set to expire on Friday, despite staunch objections from the House.

Lawmakers in the House are planning to vote Wednesday on a temporary three-month transportation extension and then leave town in an effort to force the Senate to accept its version of the must-pass highway bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his chamber will continue to try to drive its long-term highway bill over the finish line this week.

“The Senate continues to move closer and closer to passage of bipartisan, multi-year highway bill,” he said at the start of Tuesday’s Senate session.

“Success was never assured at the beginning of this process, it wasn’t assured even yesterday,” McConnell continued. “We’re not done yet, but the important thing is that the Senate is now on the verge of passing a multi-year highway bill.”

Lawmakers are facing a Friday deadline for renewing federal road funding. The House and Senate are gridlocked on the length of a possible extension, imperiling infrastructure spending at the height of the busy summer construction season.

Lawmakers in the House balked at the Senate’s multiyear proposal, and the lower chamber is planning to vote on a bill that would extend transportation funding until Oct. 29 and leave town to jam the Senate into dropping its longer proposal.

McConnell did not address the House’s plans on Tuesday, but he made the case for his chamber’s longer proposal.

“The legislation we advanced again last night is fiscally responsible, it won’t raise taxes by a penny and it will give state and local governments the kind of stability they need to plan longer-term projects for American roads and bridges,” he said.

“The bottom line is this,” McConnell continued. “If Republicans and Democrats resolve to keep working hard for the American people, we’ll get this done.”

Other Republican leaders predicted that the House would have no choice but to accept the Senate’s multiyear highway bill to prevent an interruption in the nation’s transportation funding if the upper chamber can pass it before the chamber goes home this week.

“My feeling is this….one of the reasons that I think statements have been made over there is that they never believed we’re going to be able to get passed a six-year highway reauthorization bill over here,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Inhofe said he hoped the Senate would be able to speed up the procedural clock to pass the long-term highway bill before Wednesday to “allow the House to look at it and perhaps come up with a better judgment than they’ve expressed thus far.”

“There is time to do this, and I’m personally going to make every effort,” he said.

Democrats in the Senate also sharply criticized Republican leaders in the House for planning to leave town for the traditional August early to avoid taking up the Senate’s multi-year highway bill.

“Is it even August?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked. “Isn’t it July 28th today?”

The squabbling between the chambers has threatened to imperil the nation’s infrastructure spending.

The House moved first to pass an $8 billion patch earlier this month that would have extended transportation funding until Dec. 18 in an effort to preempt Senate efforts to add a renewal of the controversial Ex-Im Bank to the must-pass highway bill.

Republican leaders in the House have balked at the proposal to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank in the highway bill, and they have said they will not take up the Senate’s multi-year infrastructure bill even if it is passed this week.

“I want a long-term highway bill that is fully paid for,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday. “That has been the goal all year and that continues to be the goal.”

Boehner and other critics in both chambers have complained that the Senate measure only includes three years worth of guaranteed funding, although it authorizes six years of spending. The measure relies on a controversial package of offsets to supplement sagging federal gas tax revenues long enough to pay for only half of the measure’s authorized expenditures.

The 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax has been the main source of federal transportation funding since the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and it has lagged behind construction expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on roads and transit, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually at its current rate.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to fully pay for a six-year highway bill. The Senate measure only includes about $47 billion in offsets, meaning lawmakers would have to revisit the infrastructure issue in three years.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/249428-senate-pressing-ahead-with-long-term-highway-bill

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