Lawmakers promised Wednesday that a two-week temporary highway funding patch that is set to be approved this week will be the last pitstop before a long-sought multiyear transportation bill is passed.
"This is the last extension. Let me put an exclamation point on that," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterLobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Pa.) said during the first public meeting for the committee that has been set up to work on a bicameral agreement on the highway bill.
"Congress is on the cusp of once again fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund our roads and bridges. Americans demand it, and our economy depends on it," said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla).
"By reauthorizing a long-term highway bill, we will be ending a wasteful cycle of short-term extensions and resetting the standard of long-term reauthorizations as were intended by President Eisenhower with his vision of a national interstate system," Inhofe continued.
It has been more than a decade since Congress passed a highway funding bill that lasted longer than two years, and lawmakers are hoping to break the streak by a new Dec. 4 deadline.
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.
Lawmakers had hoped to reach an agreement in time to prevent an interruption in the nation's road and transit spending on Friday, but they ran out of time to hash out a bicameral agreement in enough time to beat the deadline.
Lawmakers expressed optimism Wednesday that they will be able to bridge the difference between their disparate versions of the highway bill, however.
"The whole point of a conference is to compromise," Inhofe said. "Not everyone gets what they want in a bipartisan negotiation but I think we are very close to a product that country has needed for far too long."
The Oklahoma senator added that the versions of the highway bill that were passed by the House and Senate are not that far off from each other.
"Both bills recognize the need for a national freight program, further environmental streamlining, place a new focus on innovation, provide states with flexibility, and most importantly, both bills provide necessary long-term certainty," he said.
"I am confident that the Senate and House will work together to get this bill to the president’s desk within the next few weeks," Inhofe continued.
Democrats on the bicameral committee pushed for an increase in annual funding for transportation projects, and they also sought to protect a provision that would reauthorize the controversial Export-Import Bank that was included in both chambers' versions of the highway funding bill.
"It’s critical that this conference committee focuses on producing a bill that increases funding above current levels and helps states and cities invest in their infrastructure in a meaningful way," Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities US on track to miss debt payments as soon as Oct. 19: analysis On The Money — Presented by NRHC — Democrats cross the debt ceiling Rubicon MORE (D-Ohio) said.
"I am also pleased that both Houses included identical language reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank," he continued. "This is five months overdue and will help ensure that Ohio’s exporters, manufacturers and workers are not facing a playing field tilted in favor of their foreign competitors."
Lawmakers on the conference committee said they would produce a report on a bicameral agreement by the first week of December to allow the House and Senate to vote on the compromise package before the Dec. 4 deadline.