Highway Programs Head for Lapse with Furloughs, Payment Pauses

  • House vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill postponed
  • Leaders haven’t proposed temporary extension legislation

Federal highway programs are headed for a pause and thousands of Department of Transportation employees are facing furloughs after Congress failed to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to extend surface transportation programs.

The Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684), which would reauthorize the programs for five years, was slated for a House vote Thursday before it was pushed back at the last minute. A group of progressive Democrats withheld support, calling for the infrastructure vote to coincide with a vote on a larger social spending and tax package.

The House will reconvene Friday to continue consideration of the infrastructure bill.

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The Department of Transportation wrote this week that a lapse in authorization would cause federal highway programs to “cease,” and that more than 2,500 Federal Highway Administration employees would be furloughed. The lapse would also cause the Federal Transit Administration to curtail much of its work, and would prevent it from sending funds to its state and local partners, the department said.

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 have faced political hurdles. When leadership set a vote on infrastructure for Thursday before the larger spending package, progressive Democrats said they wouldn’t vote for the bill.

Progressive lawmakers remained confident throughout the day that surface transportation programs could be extended through legislation other than the infrastructure bill.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Wednesday that there was “no way” they would shut down the Transportation Department and cause “that kind of disruption.”

Many transportation stakeholders were lobbying for the passage of the infrastructure bill by Thursday, cautioning lawmakers against lapses and short-term extensions.

“Failure to pass this critical infrastructure bill today is unacceptable,” said Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. “We simply cannot kick the can down the road again without it falling into a pothole. ”

However, both chambers left Thursday night without plans to pass an extension, sending the highway bill into its second lapse in a little over a decade.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

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

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