Lawmakers drive to finish $305B highway bill

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Lawmakers are driving to finish work on a $305 billion highway bill that would guarantee federal transportation spending for the next five years. 

The House is expected to approve the measure on Thursday ahead of a Dec. 4 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure spending, setting up a potential Senate vote on the measure on Friday.  

The 1,300-page bill, paid for with gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years.

{mosads}The measure comes just days before transportation spending is set to expire. It also reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank’s expired charter until 2019. 

The House Rules Committee said Wednesday that the chamber will vote Thursday on the measure, which is the first multiyear highway bill in 10 years. The Senate is expected to follow suit quickly on Friday to beat the deadline for renewing federal transportation spending.

The White House said Wednesday that President Obama is planning to sign the multiyear highway bill. 

“If passed, this legislation would be a real step forward for our transportation infrastructure after years of short-term patches,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during a press briefing on Wednesday. 

“We’ve talked a lot about the need that state and local authorities have for some certainty,” Earnest continued. “Infrastructure projects often — at least the most impactful ones — often will take years to build, and if the federal government is providing funding at increments of a few months at a time, it’s going to undermine their ability to effectively plan for the long term.” 

If enacted, the package would reflect the first transportation funding legislation to last longer than two years since 2005.

Obama has railed against short-term transportation funding bills during his tenure in office, but he has signed dozens of patches to prevent interruptions in the nation’s road and transit funding, including recent measures that lasted two and three weeks. 

Earnest said Wednesday that Congress “putting forward something like a five-year proposal is obviously an important step in the right direction.” 

He added that the Obama administration “has put forward a transportation funding bill that actually is substantially larger,” noting that Obama proposed a six-year, $478 billion highway bill earlier this year.

“So we would actually view this legislation as a step in the right direction, but only a first step because we believe that there are more infrastructure projects that are worthy of funding that would create jobs in the short-term and lay a long-term foundation for our ongoing economic strength over the long-term,” he said. “We’ll see what Congress chooses to do from here.”

Earnest said Obama’s preference for a larger highway funding package will not prevent him from accepting the highway bill, however.

“I’m certainly applauding Congress’s bipartisan efforts to pass the bill, because if it’s passed, the president would sign it,” he said. 

Lawmakers have expressed optimistic that the highway bill will be approved by wide margins. 

“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,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters during a news conference Wednesday. 

Tags FAST Act Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act Highway bill Highway Trust Fund Josh Earnest MAP-21 Reauthorization Paul Ryan
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