House passes 30-day surface transportation funding extension amid infrastructure stalemate
The House on Friday night passed legislation to reauthorize funding for highway and transit construction programs that lapsed the day before in an effort to avert thousands of worker furloughs and interrupted projects.
Lawmakers passed the 30-day stopgap measure on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 365-51.
The short-term extension now heads to the Senate, which is expected to clear it as soon as Saturday and send it to President Biden’s desk.
The roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the Senate previously passed in August, would renew the lapsed highway and transit programs through the rest of this month. But since the House has yet to take up that bill amid Democratic infighting over negotiations for the sweeping social benefits package, the transit programs expired with the end of the fiscal year on Thursday.
About 3,700 Transportation Department employees received furlough notices on Friday due to the lapse. State and local transportation officials indicated that the impact would be minimal if the federal funding only lapsed for a day or two, but a lengthier shutdown would result in widespread delays of road and transit projects.
“We need to act now to avoid further ramifications for surface transportation programs,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
A group of centrists originally secured a commitment from Democratic leadership last month that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would get a vote in the House by Sept. 27.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) later pushed that vote to Thursday. But Democratic leaders ended up postponing that vote since progressives were threatening to tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill without a secure commitment from key Senate centrists on the social benefits package.
With the House still stubbornly without a clear path forward to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, lawmakers turned to a short-term extension of the surface transportation programs.
“While great progress has been made in the negotiations to develop a House, Senate and White House agreement on the Build Back Better Act, more time is needed to complete the task,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to lawmakers late Friday. “Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.”
Biden tamped down the centrists’ push to hold a vote on Friday after a roughly 40-minute huddle with House Democrats in the Capitol basement.
Biden told Democrats that the fates of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social benefits package should be linked, and that there was no rush at the moment.
He also indicated that progressives should be prepared for a social benefits package that is sized down from the current $3.5 trillion to something more like $2 trillion.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done,” Biden said after the meeting.
The House previously passed a $760 billion package in July to fund transportation and water projects. However, that package wasn’t taken up in the Senate since the bipartisan infrastructure bill brokered by senators and the White House was chosen as a vehicle to renew the now-expired transit programs instead.