Congress sends 30-day highway funding patch to Biden after infrastructure stalls
The Senate, in a brief Saturday session, sent a short-term reauthorization of highway programs to President Biden’s desk after hopes of a quick vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill stalled in the House.
The Senate passed the 30-day extension of the highway funding after being forced to reconvene on Saturday afternoon because Republicans wouldn’t let the bill clear quickly on Friday night after it passed the House in an 365-51 vote.
Lawmakers had hoped to move quickly to get the stop-gap bill to Biden’s desk after they missed an end-of-September deadline to pass a long-term bill to reauthorize funding for highway and transit construction programs.
“I wish we were not at that point, calling up a short-term extension … yet, here we are,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
The Department of Transportation furloughed roughly 3,700 workers on Friday after Congress failed to pass an extension of federal highway funding by an end-of-September deadline, putting pressure on Congress to pass a bill before next week.
Both the House and Senate had passed bills that would reauthorize long-term funding, but neither had been taken up.
The Senate earlier this year passed a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that wrapped in the highway funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a deal with a group of House moderates to bring that bill up for a vote by Sept. 27, which would have cleared in time to prevent a funding lapse.
But the timing of the Senate-passed infrastructure bill looked increasingly uncertain amid high-profile infighting between moderates, who want to quickly pass the legislation, and progressives, who have vowed to sink it without a sweeping social spending bill.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the top members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, began talking earlier this week about putting together a possible short-term reauthorization.
“Since the expiration is Sept. 30, we’ve been in conversations with Sen. Carper’s team, because it’s important to make sure that we reauthorize or at least extend the authorization,” Capito told reporters earlier this week.
The Monday House vote on the Senate bill was initially pushed to Thursday, putting it up against the deadline to prevent a lapse in the highway funding. Democratic leadership and the White House had hoped the extra time could secure a deal on a framework for the social spending bill that would convince progressives to quickly pass the Senate’s infrastructure bill.
But instead, the House delayed Thursday’s vote to Friday, when the chamber’s schedule was in limbo for most of the day.
Biden made a trip to Capitol Hill on Friday to meet with House Democrats, but the closed-door meeting appeared to do little to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the White House helped negotiate, unstuck.
Pelosi, in a letter to her caucus on Friday night, said negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on the reconciliation bill has made “great progress” but that “more time is needed to complete the task.”
She also set a new deadline for the bipartisan infrastructure bill in a “Dear College” letter sent on Saturday morning, pointing to the new end-of-October deadline for highway funding.
“There is an October 31st Surface Transportation Authorization deadline, after last night’s passage of a critical 30-day extension. We must pass BIF well before then – the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there,” Pelosi wrote.