The week ahead: Steering toward a highway deal

Lawmakers will continue steering toward an agreement on an extension of federal transportation funding this week. 

The House is scheduled to bring a bill to infuse about $10 billion into the Department of Transportation’s beleaguered Highway Trust Fund this year. 

The trust fund has been scheduled to run out of money next month, but the new funding would extend the federal government’s investment in U.S. roads and bridges until next spring. 

The Senate has begun working on a similar measure, though the chambers have not officially signed off on a bicameral agreement. 

The progress on the transportation funding negotiations came as a relief – and a source of frustration – for infrastructure advocates. 

Supporters of boosting the amount of money that is spent on the nation’s roads and transit systems cheered the fact that Congress looks likely to avoid a bankruptcy in federal infrastructure spending. They also lamented the fact that the measures that were starting to move in both chambers were extensions that were measured in months, not years, however. 

Transportation advocates have lamented that Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005. They argue that state and local governments need certainty of long-term funding to plan lengthy large construction projects. 

Supporters of increasing the federal gas tax had hoped lawmakers would have approved a shorter extension to keep alive the possibility of pushing for the hike in the lame duck session that will follow the November elections. Lawmakers opted instead to push the broader debate about transportation funding into the next Congress. 

Elsewhere this week, lawmakers in the Senate will revisit the controversy over General Motors’ handling of widespread recalls of millions of its automobiles earlier this year. 

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing “to examine accountability and corporate culture in wake of the General Motors (GM) recalls.” 

Lawmakers have raked GM officials, including the company’s CEO Mary Barra, over the coals several times since the spring over its handling of the recalls autos. 

Since the beginning of 2014, GM has recalled nearly 30 million of its cars, including two million that were initially found to have an ignition switch flaw that led to cars automatically shutting off or having their airbags become disabled. 

The initial cars that were recalled by GM, which were mostly older models the company no longer produces, were linked to accidents that caused 13 deaths.