Last week, Members of Congress sent a two-month extension of transportation policy to President Barack Obama, averting a May 31 shutdown of Highway Trust Fund authority and giving lawmakers until July 31 to come up with another plan.
Because the trust fund is expected to dip to its operational low near the end of July, leaders must now come up with funding offsets to keep it afloat beyond that point, as well as another extension of authority. When lawmakers return from Memorial Day recess, they’ll have just two months to reach agreement on the path forward for transportation programs — and to find the billions of dollars needed to fund any plan.
That’s likely to set up a July showdown. Many Republicans, including leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees, have already conceded that Congress will likely move toward another extension to allow more time to round up $90 billion needed for a six-year bill, hoping revenue from a tax overhaul will be the magic ticket.
House Republican leaders are already floating the idea of tying a massive tax overhaul to a multiyear transportation bill, though they don’t have the full support of the Senate Republicans. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) the chamber’s third-ranking Republican, said he’s unsure tax reform will even happen this year. Instead, he’s proposed tying the highway bill to legislation lawmakers are all but certain to pass — tax extenders.
In a statement, Sens. Jim Inhofe and Barbara Boxer, leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), called for long-term solution to the funding problem.
“The only solution to fixing this problem is to enact a consensus-based, bipartisan, six-year surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and the certainty they need to plan and construct multi-year projects to modernize our infrastructure,” they said.
Democrats, meanwhile, are doubtful that Republicans will even bother with a long-term bill if they move another highway patch during the summer, so they are trying to draw a line in the sand: it’s time for a long-term bill. The Senate EPW Committee is poised to mark up a six-year highway and transit bill June 24 with or without the backing of funding.
ABA will continue to keep you updated as the Highway Reauthorization process moves forward.