U.S. Transportation Funding Bill Hung Up in Congress
The prospects of the U.S. Congress passing a comprehensive, multi-year highway package in the immediate future appear dim at this point.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a short-term transportation bill to prevent money for state highway and infrastructure projects from drying up at the end of July. The $8 billion measure represents a five-month band aid which will keep money flowing through mid-December. The bill passed 312-119.
Some Democrats opposed the bill because they want a long-term measure. They also want the bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which is in danger of expiring if Congress does not act.
In the Senate, Republicans are fielding multi-year legislation which would provide $250 billion for transportation over several years and renew the Export-Import Bank. The bill would boost funding for freight corridors, among other infrastructure investments.
The Department of Transportation needs renewed authority and an infusion of cash to maintain the Highway Trust Fund before July 31. Although traditionally a longer-term measure, often covering six years of funding, Congress has failed to pass a comprehensive transportation package since before 2009, instead adopting 34 short-term bills to fund transportation programs.
The chances of the Senate passing a comprehensive bill by the end of the month are slim, despite the desire of some of the leadership to do so, because of some thorny issues that still need to be hammered out. That makes it more likely that the Senate will pass a short-term measure like the House, leaving the harder work until after the August recess.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has threatened to filibuster the Senate bill if it reauthorizes the Ex-Im Bank.
Besides the Ex-Im issue, other hangups to passing the comprehensive Senate package include its funding formula, which would not distribute funds to states on a performance basis.
Another obstacle is how to raise the money to pay for the measure. Fuel taxes have traditionally funded the Highway Trust Fund, but they haven’t been raised since 1993, and raising the tax is not politically expedient. The fact that Americans are now driving fewer miles and operating more fuel-efficient cars has contributed to the fiscal shortfall.
Peter Buxbaum is web editor of Global Trade.