House Republicans introduced legislation late last week to temporarily extend federal transportation funding for three weeks, giving lawmakers more time to work on a long-term highway bill.
The funding “patch,” H.R. 3819, authorizes federal transportation spending for an additional three weeks by pushing the current expiration date back from October 29 to November 20. The patch would simply authorize the use of current funds from the Highway Trust Fund.
Lawmakers hope the patch will open a lane for a multi-year fix to federal highway funding.
On Monday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said that “this extension will allow the highway bill process to continue moving forward without shutting down transportation programs and projects across the country.”
Last Thursday, the House Transportation Committee completed a markup of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, a six-year bill authorizing $325 billion in spending for highways, transit, and safety programs.
Shuster called the markup and approval of the STRR Act “a positive step forward,” adding that he looks “forward to House action on the bill and going to conference with the Senate as soon as possible.”
Switching gears after the markup, Shuster introduced the temporary patch. In the next two days, the House must take accelerated action to ensure that legislation becomes law before spending authorization expires this Thursday.
Last Friday, the White House chided lawmakers for “congressional inaction” on the issue but signaled that President Obama will support the temporary extension.
“This country cannot continue to rely on short-term patches as an approach to funding our infrastructure,” Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters. “So the House and Senate should use this time to finally complete its work on a long-term bill.”
The current roadmap to a long-term bill requires a congressional conference to reconcile the House STRR Act with the Senate’s DRIVE Act. Passed earlier this summer, the upper chamber’s legislation authorizes six years of spending but funds only three of those years.
Still, Senate leaders seem confident that a highway bill could pass through Congress and become law by the end of November.
“Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee said in a join-statement Friday with Sen. Barbara Boxer, R-Calif.
“With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving.”
Some conservatives oppose both the House and Senate highway bills.
Michael Sargent, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation, argues that the bills stall reform and set up “big-spending bailouts.”
Sargent says the patch and the long-term bills fail to “do anything substantive to fix the broken, top-down system for highway funding that has required over $70 billion in bailouts since 2008.”
“Even worse,” Sargent adds, the current patch “keeps the door open for legislative mischief such as adding unrelated or other must-pass provision to the highway bill.”