House Republicans are preparing to begin moving a two-month extension of federal transportation funding, delivering a victory to Democrats who have long preferred a shorter extension.
The measure, which is scheduled to come up in a House Rules Committee hearing on Monday, is intended to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure funding that is currently scheduled to begin on May 31.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also moving forward with a two-month extension, and is fast-tracking the bill to the Senate floor.
Reps. Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Regulation: Biz groups push reg reform in new Congress ObamaCare expansion explosion demands action GOP prepares release of funding bill to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Wis.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Friday that a two-month extension would allow lawmakers to keep working on a broader infrastructure funding agreement.
“It was our preference to move an extension through the end of the year, but we will need more time to reach a bipartisan agreement on offsets," said the GOP lawmakers, who are chairman of the House Ways and Means and Transportation committees.
"This legislation will allow transportation spending to continue through July, while we work towards a next step to close the [Highway] Trust Fund’s shortfall," Ryan and Shuster continued. "Doing so will require our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to be constructive in working towards a solution. Only then will we be able to produce a plan that gives states the certainty they need to build the roads, bridges, and other infrastructure our communities and economy need to thrive.”
Democrats have said they prefer a shorter extension that lasts just until the end of the summer because Obama administration officials have said the Department of Transportation already has enough money to cover two months' worth of extra infrastructure spending left in its Highway Trust Fund.
They argue that the shorter extension would force Congress back to the negotiating table before the August recess to craft a longer transportation funding bill.
Transportation advocates have complained that lawmakers have not passed a transportation package that lasts longer than two years since 2005. They say the shorter packages have left states unable to plan longer construction projects that are badly needed to improve the nation’s road and transit systems.
The problem has vexed Washington for the better part of a decade. The Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund takes revenue from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, but the fuel levy has been weakened by improvements in car fuel efficiency.
Additionally, the federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually at its current rate. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but infrastructure advocates say the patches are insufficient.
Transportation supporters have pushed for an increase in the gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, however, and Republicans in particular have ruled a hike a non-starter.
They applauded lawmakers for moving to prevent an interruption in the nation's transportation spending, however.
"We welcome the extension to the Highway Trust Fund introduced today by Chairmen Ryan and Shuster because, as we've urged all along, it is limited in duration," Association of Equipment Manufacturers Vice President Nick Yaksich said in a statement.
Yaksich said lawmakers should use the extra time that will be granted by the temporary highway funding patch to craft a longer bill that would remove the need for future quick fixes.
"Congress must use the next two months to develop a viable way to fund a multi-year extension of the HTF," Yaksich said. "It would be a squandered opportunity if this patch only yielded another short-term extension at the end of July."
Ryan, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, said earlier this month that he was looking for about $10 billion to cover a patch that would last until the end of year.
The measure, H.R. 2353, that is being introduced in the House Rules Committee extends the funding only until July 31, however.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will take about $100 billion to pay for a six-year transportation bill that is being sought by infrastructure advocates.
-This story was updated with new information at 3:29 p.m.