Highway Bill Extension Readied to Avert Transportation Chaos (2)

  • House leaders unveil one-month highway bill extension
  • Democrats remain divided on infrastructure bill vote

(Updates with plans for House vote on extension legislation.)

Surface transportation programs would be extended for 30 days under a bill the House is set to vote on Friday evening, which would end brief furloughs and a pause in programs at the Department of Transportation.

House Democrats decided to advance an extension after progressive pushback delayed a vote on a $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) that would reauthorize the programs for five years. The extension bill (H.R. 5434) would authorize highway and transit programs through Oct. 31.

Read the text of the extension here.

“You can only do 30 days without putting more money into DOT,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). The extension wouldn’t transfer new funds into the Highway Trust Fund. The Department of Transportation has funding on hand to keep programs running in the short term, the agency announced last week, although its contingency plan noted that much of its work would be curtailed without an authorization.

The lapse caused about 3,700 Department of Transportation employees to be furloughed, according to an agency spokesperson. Those employees would have their compensation during the lapse restored under the extension bill.

If the House passes the bill, it will also need to go to the Senate before reaching President Joe Biden’s desk.

Highway Programs Head for Lapse with Furloughs, Payment Pauses

House leadership had been operating on a two-track path to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger tax and social spending package through the chamber, but faced political hurdles. When leadership confirmed a vote on infrastructure for Thursday before making a decision on the larger spending package, progressive Democrats said they wouldn’t vote for the bill. A day of negotiations and a meeting with Biden produced progress but no agreement to proceed to a vote.

‘Cost in Delay’

DeFazio has previously criticized short-term extensions. “States have limits and they can’t plan a two-year project and initiate it if they’ve got 30 days of funding,” DeFazio said Wednesday. “We don’t want to go through that and we don’t want to go through a series of them.”

Transportation stakeholders also warned of the consequences of short-term extensions.

“To those on the Hill who are suggesting, well, there’s no real cost in delay in terms of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that’s wrong, there actually is cost in delay,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bradley said state and local officials are making their plans for next year now, so if they want to take advantage of the spring and summer construction season, they want to know about funding availability now. “It is not cost-free to simply kick the can down the road on this,” he said.

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said the lapse “halts work on vital transportation infrastructure around the country, which is detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities.”

GOP Pushback

Republicans criticized Democrats on Friday for not voting on the infrastructure bill before the deadline and allowing surface transportation programs to lapse. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she is “deeply disappointed” the House postponed the vote.

“This lapse caused by House Democrats was completely avoidable,” Capito said.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the House transportation panel, said lawmakers need to “lift these issues above the internal strife” among Democrats to “give states some certainty with a reasonable extension of programs.”

“The last thing we need is a series of short-term extensions that hinder states’ plans to fix, maintain and upgrade roads and bridges,” Graves said in a statement on Twitter.

With assistance from Erik Wasson

To contact the reporters on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com; Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com

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