House Rules Committee to consider $325 billion highway bill

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The House Rules Committee will consider a bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years on Monday, clearing the way for a potential floor vote on the measure later next week. 

The measure, titled the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, calls for spending $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.

The bill was approved last week by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Lawmakers are trying get it signed into law before a new Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure funding that was set up by a temporary patch passed this week to prevent a highway funding stoppage. 

Supporters of the House's long-term highway funding measure have said they are hopeful the lower chamber can resolve its difference with the Senate in time to get a multiyear transportation bill to President Obama's desk by the end of next month. 

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“We look forward to voting on that bill in the House soon and then going to conference with the Senate on their highway bill," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said about the long-time highway bill's prospects in a statement releaesd when the temporary highway patch was introduced at the beginning of this week.  

"I am confident that we can resolve the differences between the House and Senate measures and producing a final product that’s good for our nation’s infrastructure," Shuster continued.  

The Rules Committee will determine which amendments are allowed to be included in the multiyear highway funding measure, which could affect the amount of support it gets in the eventual floor vote. 

Republicans in the House have been facing pressure to pass a multiyear highway bill since they rejected an infrastructure funding measure that was approved by Senate this summer. GOP House leaders balked at that bill, in part, because it contained six years' worth of transportation commitments but only three years' worth of funding. 

By contrast, the highway bill that was approved by the House Transportation Committee last week would require lawmakers to pass new legislation to "unlock" additional funding after the initial three years, instead of guaranteeing it in advance.

Both chambers' highway bills would maintain the federal government's current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation. To reach that level of spending, however, Congress will have to come up with approximately $16 billion per year to supplement revenue from the federal gas tax.  

Democrats in the House and transportation advocates in Washington have pushed for an increase in federal infrastructure spending through either a gas tax increase or an infusion of cash from taxing oversees corporate profits. 

They have both lamented the repeated temporary highway funding patches that have been passed by Congress in recent years as lawmakers search for way to pay for roads without asking drivers to pay more at the pump. 

“It’s time for a real highway bill, no more patches, no more extensions," said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who introduced a bill that calls for using revenue from corporate tax reform to pay for several years of roads and transit projects. 

"Instead of patching the same flat tire for a decade, it’s time for a new approach,” said Delaney, whose bill would pump $170 billion into the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund.

"It is clear, that as we lurch from short-term patch to short-term patch that the old approach isn’t working and that we need a new solution," Delaney said.  

Republicans in the House have said the $325 billion transportation funding measure they have put together is the most viable option for getting a multiyear highway bill to Obama's desk. 

"The STRR Act is fiscally responsible and authorizes federal surface transportation programs for six years," Shuster said during the earlier Transportation Committee hearing on the measure.  

"A safe, efficient network of roads, bridges, and public transit means that we spend less time in traffic, transportation costs for goods and services remain lower, and more jobs are created throughout the economy," he continued then. "That’s what this bill does in a way that I believe ensures a strong and appropriate federal role in surface transportation, enables our country to remain competitive, and improves Americans’ quality of life." 

Transportation advocates complain 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.