House Dems lament latest highway patch

Democrats in the House lamented the fact that Congress appears poised to settle for a three-month patch of federal transportation funding that is scheduled to expire on Friday instead of passing a long-sought multiyear extension. 

The House voted 385-34, with one member voting present, to approve the temporary extension, which will move the transportation funding deadline from Friday to Oct. 29. 

Democrats who supported the short-term measure said after the vote that they did so only to prevent an interruption in the nation’s transportation spending at the height of the busy construction season. 

{mosads}“If everyone in Congress left the Capitol tonight and rode with my constituents on the [D.C. Metro] Red Line or I-270 or I-81, this would be the last short-term highway bill we’d be forced to pass,” Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said in a statement.

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005. Lawmakers have been grappling with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year. 

The traditional transportation funding source is revenue that is collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and it has lagged behind construction expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

Delaney has introduced legislation that calls for using revenue from corporate tax reform to pay for several years’ worth of roads and transit projects.

Republican leaders in the House have said they are open to the idea, known as repatriation, but they said they needed more time than Friday’s deadline afforded to craft a long-term transportation bill. 

“This legislation continues to fund road, bridge and other infrastructure improvements for America while providing the House time to put forward a fiscally responsible long-term surface transportation proposal when Congress returns and then go to conference with the Senate,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said after Wednesday’s vote. 

“We all share the same goal of completing a long-term bill as soon as possible and ensuring that critical programs do not shut down before we achieve that goal is the right thing to do,” Shuster continued. 

Democrats were less optimistic, noting that Wednesday’s temporary transportation funding extension is the 34th patch that has been passed since a 2005 multiyear highway bill expired in 2009. 

“It was with great frustration that I voted for yet another short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), noting she was also opposed to the removal of the controversial Export-Import Bank reauthorization from the House’s highway funding patch. 

“While this action is better than allowing the Highway Fund to expire, our local communities, businesses, and hard working families deserve more than short-term patches that kick the can down the pothole-ridden road,” Bustos continued. “Over the next three months, I will continue to advocate for a long-term solution to strengthen our nation’s transportation networks and make the needed down payment on our region’s future economic well-being.”  

The Senate is expected to pass the House’s patch on Thursday and send it to President Obama, although the upper chamber has vowed to also complete work on Thursday on its own long-term highway bill that the House refused to take up before leaving town after Wednesday’s votes. 

Tags Cheri Bustos DRIVE Act Highway bill Highway Trust Fund John Delaney MAP-21 Reauthorization

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