(Updates with vote and Portman comment.)
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The latest short-term government funding bill will further kick the can down the road in implementing the infrastructure law and the Biden administration’s transportation goals, senior Democratic lawmakers warned Tuesday.
The House on Tuesday passed another stopgap bill (H.R. 6617) that would extend government funding through March 11, sending the measure to the Senate. Such a measure would leave in question dozens of programs in the infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58), and at least $18.5 billion in spending this fiscal year, according to the Transportation Department’s dashboard on implementation.
“We’re unable to go full throttle on a number of areas until we have the fiscal 22 appropriations bill in law,” David Price (D-N.C.), the chair of the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an interview Tuesday.
House appropriators advanceda bill (H.R. 4550) to fund transportation and housing in fiscal 2022 back in July that would have boosted spending on passenger rail, zero-emission buses, and transit — reflecting the priorities President Joe Biden’s Transportation Department soughtin its request. The measure was part of a seven-bill spending minibus (H.R. 4502) passed by the House later that month.
Lawmakers, unable to agree on top-line spending, have already passed two continuing resolutions to keep the government funded since the fiscal year started Oct. 1. The new measure would be the third.
The Transportation Department has been moving ahead with some advanced appropriations and formula funding to states and agencies from the infrastructure law. But important infrastructure elements can’t be implemented without a full-year appropriations bill, including new “environmentally oriented” initiatives, Price said.
“There’s a lot riding on having this,” Price said, adding that an example of what’s at stake includes a proposal in Biden’s budget request to rectify past injustices in transportation policy where highways have cut through communities of color.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) blamed Republicans for holding up infrastructure implementation by not passing appropriations for the fiscal year.
“This sabotage will block most of the additional investments included in the law, which will mean the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars delayed that should be going toward fixing our crumbling infrastructure right now,” DeFazio said.
Rocky Road Ahead
Transportation Department officials have warned they have limited power to kick off new programs and are struggling with staffing because they don’t have a full-year appropriations bill. The current stopgap funding law expires Feb. 18.
“Every operation of government, including ours, does best of course when we have the certainty of a full budget and normal appropriations,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at an event last month.
Last week, the Transportation Department said that more than $4.7 billion in transit formula funding for this fiscal year was available to agencies and states, but warned that full-year formula funding at the levels prescribed in the law would only be available once lawmakers pass the appropriations bill.
Republicans are also pushing to get the appropriations bill done, and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) believes it is “critical in order to fully implement the infrastructure law,” his spokeswoman Mollie Timmons said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was hopeful lawmakers would be able to pass an omnibus in March for the rest of the year.
But it would still be a “tall order” to make all the adjustments needed for a full-year bill by that deadline, Price said.
“We’ve done as much as we can possibly do in advance, and so we’re not flat-footed by any means, but still, it’s going to be a lot of work,” he said.
With assistance from Emily Wilkins
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org