Negotiators meeting to initiate highway talks

Negotiators meeting to initiate highway talks

Lawmakers are meeting Wednesday to negotiate on a new multiyear highway bill for the first time in public, although they have already lined up to pass another temporary road funding extension this week. 

Congress is hoping to reach a bicameral agreement on a multiyear transportation funding bill for the first time in a decade. 

They had hoped to pass the measure in time to prevent an interruption in the nation's road and transit spending on Friday, but they have lined up a two-week extension to give themselves more time to get over the finish line.

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Lawmakers have expressed optimism that the upcoming temporary highway funding patch will be the last short-term extension of the nation's road and transit funding. 

"The House and Senate are making good progress in resolving differences between their respective multi-year surface transportation reauthorization proposals," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who will be one of the leaders of Wednesday's meeting.  

"The conference committee needs the time necessary to meet in public, complete negotiations and produce a final measure that helps improve America’s infrastructure," Shuster continued, adding that the temporary highway funding extension "provides time for that process to occur and for the House and Senate to vote on the final legislation without shutting down transportation programs and projects in the meantime.”

Lawmakers in the House have approved a bipartisan bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years. 

But that approach differs from a six-year bill approved by the Senate over the summer. House lawmakers had rejected the Senate bill, which authorizes funding for six years but only pays for three years of spending.

The highway bill that was approved by the House calls for spending up to $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years but only includes enough money to pay for the first three of them. 

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation that also contained three years' worth of guaranteed highway funding in July. 

Critics have complained that the potential highway funding agreement is not fully funded for six years and does not increase the federal government's annual funding for road and transit projects.