Obama signs three-week highway bill

Obama signs three-week highway bill

President Obama signed into a law a bill to extend federal transportation funding, which had been set to expire on Thursday night, preventing an interruption in the nation's road and transit spending. 

The bill, passed this week by both the House and Senate, extends federal transportation funding until Nov. 20.

Obama has railed against short-term transportation funding patches, but he signed the bill that was sent to him on Thursday to prevent an interruption in the nation's road and transit funding ahead of the busy holiday travel season. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Lawmakers in both chambers have said the temporary patch will provide time for them to finish work on a long-sought multiyear highway funding bill.

"This three-week extension will allow the House and Senate to go conference on our bipartisan long-term bill and get that signed into law before Nov. 20," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said moments before the quick vote on Wednesday. 

The Senate has already passed a six-year highway bill in July, but the measure only includes three years' worth of guaranteed funding.

The House, meanwhile, has worked on a six-year, $325 billion transportation bill that similarly contains only three years of guaranteed funding. The House would cut off the nation's infrastructure spending in three years if Congress does not come up with a way to pay for the rest of the spending.

The lower chamber is expected to bring the multiyear highway bill up for a vote on the floor of the House next week, clearing the way for a long-sought conference on infrastructure spending between the chambers.

Lawmakers have been struggling for years to come up with a long-term extension of federal transportation funding that is normally financed by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in appropriately $34 billion at its current rate.

Lawmakers were able to put off the question of how to pay for transportation projects in the measure they sent to Obama because they included enough funding in a short-term bill approved this summer to last until the end of the year. But that earlier patch had been scheduled to expire Thursday, necessitating the patch that was signed into law by Obama. 

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill lasting longer than two years since 2005, to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.

Senate leaders have said they expect to be able to get a multiyear highway bill to Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving.

"Unlike in years past, I expect a very short conference period," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a speech Monday evening.

"When I say a very short conference period, it's because there's very little difference between the House bill and the Senate bill," he continued. "I've talked to the likely conferees and they are in accord with the idea that we can do this in a matter of hours and not days."

The short-term highway bill that was signed by Obama also extends a Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install an automated train navigation system, known as positive train control, to the end of 2018. The extension had previously been attached to both the Senate and House's multiyear highway bills after railroads threatened to partially shut down many of the nation's railways.