House Dem seeks to block future highway patches

House Dem seeks to block future highway patches
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Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerChuck E. Cheese files for bankruptcy protection Bipartisan bill introduced to provide 0B in relief for restaurants OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dems press Trump consumer safety nominee on chemical issues | Lawmakers weigh how to help struggling energy industry | 180 Democrats ask House leadership for clean energy assistance MORE (D-Ore.) is seeking to block Congress from passing temporary extensions of federal transportation funding. 

Congress is expected to pass a two-month patch this week to prevent an interruption in federal transportation funding that is currently scheduled to expire on May 31. 

The patch will only extend the transportation funding measure until July 31 because lawmakers were unable to come up with a way to pay for longer measure, including a $10 billion patch that would have lasted until the end of the year that was proposed by House Republicans. 

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Blumenauer said Monday that he is filing an amendment to the measure that will prevent Republicans from passing another temporary extension later this summer to keep the focus on find an agreement on a broader infrastructure measure. 

“This pattern of repeated extensions, and funding our infrastructure only months at a time, limits our ability to plan for the future and costs us money today," he said in a statement. "If we extend the program into the next fiscal year, it is nearly certain that Congress will be unable to pass a long-term bill before mid-2017. We all say we want a long-term bill. My amendment would force Congress to return to regular order and pass the six-year bill America deserves by the end of September.”

Democrats have said they will accept the two-month extension of transportation funding that has been by Republicans because Obama administration officials have said the Department of Transportation already has enough money to cover two months' worth of extra infrastructure spending left in its Highway Trust Fund.

They argue, like Blumenauer, that the shorter extension would force Congress back to the negotiating table before the August recess to craft a longer transportation funding bill.

Transportation advocates have complained that lawmakers have not passed a transportation package that lasts longer than two years since 2005. They say the shorter packages have left states unable to plan longer construction projects that are badly needed to improve the nation’s road and transit systems.

The problem has vexed Washington for the better part of a decade. The Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund takes revenue from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, but the fuel levy has been weakened by improvements in car fuel efficiency.

Additionally, the federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually at its current rate. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but infrastructure advocates say the patches are insufficient.

Transportation supporters have pushed for an increase in the gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, however, and Republicans in particular have ruled a hike a non-starter.

Blumenauer's legislation would prevent Congress for passing any legislation that extends transportation funding beyond Sept. 30, which is the end of the 2015 fiscal year, for less than six years.