House unveils six-year, $325B highway bill

The House is rolling out a bipartisan bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years as Congress scrambles to prevent an interruption in the nation's infrastructure spending at the end of the month. 

The measure would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years, according to a bipartisan group of Transportation Committee aides. 

The first three years of the infrastructure spending under the measure would be guaranteed, while the remaining three years would be authorized pending additional funding from congressional appropriators, according to the House aides.

The current transportation funding measure is scheduled to expire on Oct. 29. Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term extension. 

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax brings about $34 billion per year, but the federal government typically spends about $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap, and House aides said Friday that the chamber's Ways and Means Committee will have to identify a set of offsets for the new highway bill before it can move forward. 

Transportation advocates have complained that Congress has not passed an infrastructure measure that lasts longer than two years since 2005.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the annual gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length being sought by the Obama administration and transportation supporters. 

Congress is scrambling to beat the Oct. 29 deadline that was set by lawmakers in a temporary transportation funding extension that was passed in July. Republican and Democratic party aides in the House said Friday that another patch will likely be necessary to give Congress time to conference on the highway bill. 

Democrats in the Senate have pressured House Republicans to pass a six-year highway bill after they rejected a multi-year highway bill from Senate known as the DRIVE Act during the summer. Republicans in the House complained the Senate's bill contained six years' worth of transportation commitments but only three years' worth of guaranteed funding.

By contrast, House aides say their chamber's measure would require lawmakers to "unlock" the additional round of funding after the initial three years if lawmakers can come up with a way to pay for it instead of guaranteeing it to states now. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to help make up the shortfall, but Republicans and some Democrats have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to begin cutting back on payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement on a highway bill extension this month. 

The text and summary of the House transportation bill can be read here