Ryan foresees ‘good majority support’ for highway bill


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted a compromise highway bill that is expected to be released Tuesday will receive “good majority support” as lawmakers work to prevent a lapse in federal transportation funding. 

Highway spending is currently set to expire on Dec. 4, and Ryan predicted Tuesday that the lower chamber would easily approve the House-Senate deal.

“We’ve got two big conference reports coming up this week. We expect to have very good majority support on both the highway bill and the [Elementary and Secondary Elementary School Act] bill,” he told reporters during a news conference Wednesday. 

{mosads}Lawmakers are hurrying to finish negotiations on a bicameral multi-year transportation funding measure so both chambers have time consider a deal by Friday’s deadline.

GOP aides in the House said an announcement of such an agreement is likely on Tuesday.

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to stop making payments to state and local governments for infrastructure projects if Congress does not reach an agreement on at least another temporary funding extension. 

The highway bill lawmakers are finishing work on would be the first transportation funding legislation to last longer than two years since 2005. 

The talks began after the House passed a bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years. 

Ryan touted the consideration of hundreds of amendments to the bill as evidence of his commitment to opening up the legislative process during his tenure as Speaker. 

“This is the way things are supposed to happen,” he said. “This is regular order. This is the committees doing their jobs, members serving on conference committees and hammering our an agreement. And this week, we’re going to have a highway bill which will help families and workers by rebuilding our infrastructure and giving a boost to our economy.”

Negotiators are working to merge the House bill with the version passed by the Senate this summer. House lawmakers had rejected the Senate bill, which authorized funding for six years but only included funding for three years.

Meanwhile, Congress has passed a series of temporary extensions of federal highway funding, to the chagrin of transportation advocates who complain that it is difficult for states to complete large construction projects on patchwork funding measures.

Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for transportation funding in the long term.

The traditional source is revenue collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually. 

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap, and lawmakers on the committee negotiating the highway bill are working to identify ways to pay for the bill.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the annual gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding measure.

Transportation advocates have suggested shortening the duration of the measure to four or five years to bring the costs down. 

Tags Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization Paul Ryan
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