Highways, Bridges and Roads

Bipartisan deal would extend highway funds, gas tax through Feb.

A deal reached by Democrats and Republicans on the House Transportation Committee would extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and federal highway projects through February. 

According to draft legislative language obtained by The Hill, the FAA funding, which was set to expire Friday, and the surface transportation bill, which would have ended Sept. 30, will be rolled into one bill that will be likely be approved by the House this week.

The bill funds both programs through February, a longer-than-normal temporary extension that acknowledges how far apart lawmakers are on longer measures for the national aviation and highway systems. 

{mosads}The FAA had been partially shutdown by an impasse in Congress over the short-term funding bill that is expiring this week. About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed and 70,000 construction workers were placed out-of-work by the temporary shutdown. The shutdown is estimated to have cost the federal government $30 million per day because sales taxes on airplane purchases were unable to be collected.

Transportation observers had feared the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act could become the next instance of brinkmanship between the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratically-controlled Senate after the FAA shutdown and the down-to-the-wire negotiations over raising the federal debt ceiling last month. If the bill is not extended, the government would be unable to collect the federal gas tax, which brings in about $100 million per day.

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has recently been urging lawmakers to avoid big fights over spending that could lead to shutdowns of federal agencies.

“I think the risk of bringing about brinksmanship or another potential shutdown is not something right now that we need,” the majority leader told reporters Monday at his weekly press briefing. “It is not something that would be helpful to create jobs and breeding confidence, which is why I have taken the position I have.”

A previous draft of the proposed extension of the FAA funding last week had included back pay for the workers who were furloughed for 13 days by the shutdown earlier this month, but the language does not appear in the bill that combines the extension with highway funding.

The House and Senate had proposed vastly different versions of the surface transportation bill, and they also approved long-term bills to fund the FAA that were far apart.

On the highway bill, the House has proposed a six-year, $235 billion bill, while the Senate has suggested a two-year, $109 billion bill. Advocates generally like the longer length of the House bill, but they prefer the higher per-year dollar amount of the Senate proposal.

The bill the House approved in May to fund the FAA was a four-year, $59 billion bill. But it included a provision to nix labor rules passed last year by the National Mediation Board that made it easier for transportation workers to join unions. The provision was not in the two-year, $34 billion the Senate passed in February.

The labor provision in the House FAA bill bogged down negotiations with the Senate and drew a veto threat from President Obama.

Under rules passed by Republicans when they took over the House earlier this year, the combined highway-FAA bill will have to be viewed for three days before it can be voted on by lawmakers.

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