At loggerheads over how to fund transportation projects, both the House and Senate on Tuesday moved toward passing a stopgap bill this week that will keep highway projects moving through the summer but that won’t provide a lasting funding solution.
The agreement to move a three-month highway funding bill temporarily ends an impasse between House and Senate GOP leaders over how long to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund, with the current program set to expire at the end of the month.
But it also highlights the continuing inability of Congress to agree on a long-term plan for covering the cost of budget shortfalls in a program that provides the funding for bridge and road projects across the country.
[Get email updates by using our new Follow feature]
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been pushing to enact legislation funding transportation projects for three years so that the issue will not have to be addressed again until after the 2016 elections.
But his approach is widely viewed with skepticism in the House for various reasons, including doubts about the funding sources, questions about the transportation policy embedded in it and controversy over potential non-transportation riders.
[Sign up for The Daily 202, The Washington Post’s new political tipsheet]
On Tuesday, leaders in both chambers got behind the stop-gap bill and said they plan to work on long-term highway funding legislation this fall, downplaying the significance of once again passing a short-term reauthorization.
“The House wants to produce a long term highway bill,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters. “And so we’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to buy some time to get that work done.”
McConnell said the Senate will complete work this week on his three-year plan but will then take up the House authored three-month extension to prevent highway funding from expiring at the end of the month.
House Republicans plan to vote Wednesday and the bill will then go to the Senate where it is expected to be cleared for the president’s signature.
The House plans to leave for its August recess after votes on Wednesday giving the Senate little choice but to move the three-month bill or risk shutting down federal funding for transportation investments at the peak of the highway construction season.
“We will see when we get it and see how quickly we can take it up,” McConnell said.
Conservative House members, who have recently bristled at stopgap bills, did not appear ready to stand in the way of the three-month plan — not least because the highway extension would not renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank. The House bill also includes about $3.4 billion in funding for veterans programs, which is expected to be a sweetener for any skeptical members who worry about backing another short-term highway patch.
McConnell isn’t giving up on the three-year funding bill he’s currently moving through the Senate in hopes that it will serve as a marker when negotiations between the two chambers begin anew in the fall.
But it will be a tough sell in the House.
Conservatives, in particular, oppose the Senate approach, which cobbles together funding from a variety of sources.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) called the Senate’s approach a “joke.”
“There is no long term plan,” he said. “It’s a six-year funding bill that pays for three, and those three years are dubious.”