Facing expiration of the latest extension of transportation authorization on March 31, the House and Senate passed a 90-day extension (the 9th) on Thursday, allowing for funding of the highway and transit programs and collection of the federal motor fuels taxes (the gas tax) to continue through the end of June. The bill will now go to the president who is expected to sign it before the current extension expires.
With both the House and Senate scheduled to go into recess for the next two weeks, the action was necessary to avoid a shutdown of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and a halt of reimbursements to states for ongoing highway construction contracts.
The action follows a week of partisan bickering in the House and several failed attempts to pass an extension. Debate centered around enactment of a multiyear authorization bill rather than the 90-day extension. HR 7, a five-year authorization, is awaiting floor consideration by the full House, but House Republican leadership has been unable to garner enough support for its passage.
Since the Senate completed action on MAP-21, a two-year authorization bill, on March 14 by a bipartisan vote of 74-22, House Democrats have been calling for the House to take up the Senate-passed bill, but with no consensus on how to address the program in the long term, an extension was approved to avoid program disruption. Thirty-seven Democrats joined Republicans to approve the extension on a vote of 266-158.
Both bills will essentially fund the highway and transit programs at the FY 2012 appropriated level, take steps to shore up the short-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund and make significant policy and program reforms.
Following the extension vote, AGC and our Transportation Construction Coalition partners contacted Congress pointing out that, “While we supported the extension approved today to prevent a shutdown of essential infrastructure improvements across the nation, that support should not be confused as acceptance of inaction on a multi-year reauthorization bill. Our members are growing increasingly frustrated that Congress seems incapable of passing critical legislation that improves the flow of commerce and promotes economic growth. The construction industry continues to suffer from chronic unemployment and the continued delay in enacting a longer-term bill prohibits them from expanding their workforces and investing in new equipment. It is unfortunate that a program that has traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support is being used as a means to advance political instead of policy objectives. The federal highway and public transportation programs have been governed by extension for 30 months. Congress can and must do better.”
AGC will continue to press for Congress to immediately complete action on a long-term bill when it returns from the Easter recess.