The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee each acted last Thursday on measures that would avert Highway Trust Fund (HTF) insolvency in the coming weeks.
In the morning, the House Committee on Ways and Means passed by voice vote a package that funds transportation projects (through the HTF) until the end of May.
The measure, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (or H.R. 5021), would supply the HTF with about $10.8 billion and extend federal highway, transit, and highway safety program authority through May 31, 2015. Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) said that the measure would get that funding through "pension smoothing and customs user fees," which Camp said are policies he believes the Senate would support, and a transfer of gas-tax-funded monies in the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which Camp again said should have support as this was used in the passage of MAP-21.
"This is the only package with a proven history of getting big bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate. And, while it doesn't provide as much funding as I would like—enough to get through the end of next year—it does give Congress and the tax-writing committees ample time to consider a more long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund," said Camp in a statement. "I know these policies are not perfect, but they are viable, have been used by the House and Senate before and should pass both the House and Senate quickly. With these policies, we can steer clear of another crisis showdown, and we should."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) said he was happy to get the measure passed through committee, but he is also focused on finding a long-term fix.
"This bill in no way precludes Congress from continuing to work on addressing a long-term funding solution, and a long-term reauthorization bill remains a top priority for the Transportation Committee," Shuster said. "However, this legislation is the responsible solution at this time, ensures that we don't play politics with these programs, and provides for making continued improvements to our surface transportation system."
The measure is scheduled for a full House vote next week.
Additional information on H.R. 5021 is available here.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee passed its own short-term HTF fix later in the day on Thursday by voice vote, with only Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), who is also a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, dissenting. The Senate Finance measure also would provide $10.8 billion in new revenue to the HTF, composed of a slightly different mix of revenue sources. However, this proposal does yet not include a program authority extension beyond the current expiration date of September 30, 2014.
The Senate Finance Committee mark also included an amendment to rescind about $45 million of funding associated with "orphan earmarks" from surface transportation authorization bills where more than 90 percent of the funds associated with the earmark remains unobligated after ten or more years. However, both the Secretary of Transportation and the state administering the project would have the ability to delay the rescission of a project if the case can be made that the project is still a priority.
Senate Democrats are unhappy with an emerging short-term highway funding extension, even if they appear to be gearing up to accept it.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) put out a joint statement late Thursday evening with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who was the lone "no" vote during a hearing about a deal Wyden worked out with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to extend infrastructure funding into next spring.
“The time for Congress to pass and fund a long-term transportation bill is this year,” Carper said in the statement. “It’s not a job for the next Congress, it’s the job of the current Congress. After five years of short-term extensions, punting on our responsibility to get this done for another year will hinder private sector economic growth and job creation, and will likely continue a harmful cycle of short-term extensions indefinitely.”