By Keith Laing
A deal to combine federal funding for highways and the national aviation system for the next six months under one bill should be considered a victory even though it likely means there will not be long-term appropriations measures for the FAA or highway programs a key House Democrat said Tuesday.
Appearing Tuesday on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), said any extension was a positive move and transportation supporters had to "take what we got right now."
This week, Democrats and Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reached a deal that would extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and federal highway projects through February. The deal comes days before the FAA, which was partially shut down by an impasse in Congress last month, was set to run out of money again Friday.
Rahall said that although he was grateful for the six months that will be bought for transportation spending at levels that are higher than they would have been under the budget passed by the House GOP earlier this year, he was still holding out hope that Congress could come together on robust long-term measures for the FAA and federal highway programs.
"Our committee has been nonpartisan over so many decades," he said. "There are no Republican bridges and Democratic bridges, there are American bridges. In that same spirit of bipartisanship, we should enact a six-year bill [for highways]."
Republicans on the House Transportation Committee have proposed the six-year highway bill Rahall is seeking, but they limited spending to the roughly $35 million the highway trust fund brings in from federal gas taxes. The Senate has proposed a shorter two-year bill that spends $54 billion per year, an amount transportation advocates prefer.
The chambers are equally far apart on long-term bills for the FAA. The House passed a four-year, $59 billion bill in May, but it included a labor provision that Democrats argued would make it harder for transportation workers to unionize, and President Obama threatened to veto it. The Senate passed a two-year, $34 billion without the labor provisions in February.
The 13-day shutdown of the FAA in August resulted in 4,000 workers being furloughed and about 70,000 construction workers being placed out of work because airport projects were stalled. The shutdown was estimated to have cost the federal government $30 million per day.
The highway bill that is also being extended included the language that authorizes the collection of the federal gas tax, which brings in about $100 million each day. If the bill is not extended by Sept. 30, the government would be unable to collect that money.
After watching the shutdown of the FAA play out and the drawn-out fight over raising the federal debt ceiling, transportation advocates had worried that the gas tax could be the next instance of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans going over the brink.
But Rahall said Tuesday that was unlikely to happen with the deal being reached.
"It is my understanding that the Senate is waiting for the House to act," he said, predicting the combined transportation measure would be approved Tuesday or Wednesday.