Democrats preparing backup highways plan in case infrastructure bill stalls

Democrats preparing backup highways plan in case infrastructure bill stalls
© Greg Nash

The Democratic chairmen of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are preparing for a backup plan to keep highway programs authorized in case the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan remains stalled in the House.

Without congressional action, more than 2,400 employees in the Federal Highway Administration and other Department of Transportation divisions would be furloughed. 

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Advocates see pilot program to address inequalities from highways as crucial first step Democrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos MORE (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate panel, said if the House fails to pass the infrastructure bill “we will need a plan B.”

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“There are bipartisan conversations going on in the Senate … on what that plan B might be to avoid a shutdown, a closure, which would be a self-inflicted wound. We don’t want to do that,” he said.

Carper said the stop-gap authorization measure needs to pass “sooner rather than later.”

It is expected to last for 30 days.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise MORE (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, on Thursday said “there’s a contingency for a short-term extension of the highway program.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThanks to President Biden, infrastructure is bipartisan again — it needs to stay that way Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senate punts on defense bill Biden's next challenge: Selling the infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ore.) on Wednesday signaled that lawmakers would move a short-term extension of highway programs if the $1 trillion bipartisan package stalled. 

On Friday, DeFazio said that leaders hadn’t yet decided whether a stopgap is needed, holding out hope for passing the larger bill. 

“We haven’t decided the path forward,” he said. “We’re having a discussion."

“You will find out later today. The discussion is ongoing,” he added.

DeFazio said highway programs can only be extended for another month without putting more money into the Transportation Department. 

The Senate is scheduled to convene at noon on Friday, but most senators have already left town as the next roll-call vote isn’t scheduled until Monday afternoon.

Jordain Carney contributed.