Another highway funding extension…Is something different this time around?

Photo: Architect of the Capitol

Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol

The “dog days of summer” have been with us for several weeks, coinciding perfectly with Congress’s annual August recess.  All is quiet on Capitol Hill – for the moment.  But even as lawmakers enjoy some time off, we have to believe that many are keeping an eye on what promises to be a complicated autumn agenda. Especially when they think about a Federal Highway Bill and long term transportation funding!

For anyone who wasn’t following the news a few weeks back, Congress recessed after passing yet another 3-month extension that will keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until the end of October. Not that our legislators didn’t try to do more. As the last extension approached its expiration on July 31, there was a flurry of Congressional activity. The hope was that, maybe this time, the U.S. would gain a solid Federal transportation program with funding for the long term. It was not to be.

In mid-July, the House proposed a 5-month extension to give lawmakers time to iron out a long term program by the end of 2015. But the Senate had a bigger plan. Rather than enduring yet another short term funding extension, the Senate developed a 6-year transportation bill which they hoped the House would embrace. However, the Senate program was only funded for three of the six years. The House wasn’t buying. When the dust settled at the end of July, both chambers agreed on the 3-month extension, the 34th short term funding patch since 2009. The Senate also passed its own 6-year plan, setting the stage for more Congressional debate this fall.

So what’s different this time around? Well, despite differing opinions on funding mechanisms, both House and Senate have been exceptionally vocal about their goal of passing a long-term transportation program sooner rather than later. When the House proposed its 5-month extension in July, Republican leaders indicated that the short-term measure would give them more time to develop a long-term highway bill. “We want to do a multi-year highway bill, and typically a multi-year highway bill means a six-year bill, and that is our aspiration and that is our goal,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the bill’s co-sponsor. “So we’re here to extend the Highway Trust Fund through December 18 to give us the time we need to put together a multi-year solution.”

After passing its own 6-year highway bill, the Senate spoke in a similar vein. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “The multi-year nature of this legislation is one of its most critical components. It’s also something the House and Senate are now united on.” McConnell also noted that passage of the new 3-month funding extension gives the House space to develop its own long term-plan. “We all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in conference later this year,” he said.

It’s clear that Congressional leaders have placed development and passage of a sustainable, long-term highway bill right in the bull’s-eye for late 2015. Can they make it happen? We’ll see. But as summer winds down and lawmakers enjoy the last few days of August recess, it’s a good bet that transportation funding is very much in mind.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>