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Highway Bill Extension Will Provide Funding Until Spring 2015

Today, the House insisted on its version of the highway funding extension (HR 5021), which contains $10.8 billion in funding for MAP-21 programs, enough money to last until approximately May 2015. The House voted 271-149 to reject an alternative Senate proposal to extend highway funding only until December, which would have kept the pressure on the 113th Congress to resolve the long-term Highway Trust Fund problems this year.

As we expected, the House had significant leverage over the Senate in the final hours before adjourning for August recess. However, the bipartisan Senate support earlier this week for the December timeline was more than expected with 66 Senators voting in favor of the Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment to set a December deadline, including several conservative Republicans who generally do not support highway programs but also oppose the use of “pension smoothing” as an offset for highway funding. The Highway Users supported the Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment in the Senate. We also supported the vote in favor of HR 5021 in the House two weeks ago.

[The Highway Users also strongly opposed an amendment by Senator Lee (R-UT), to reduce the federal fuel taxes by 80% and dismantle the federal highway program. We were pleased by the overwhelming opposition to the Lee amendment, which failed 28-69.]

The stronger than expected final vote in favor of the bipartisan Senate bill, which passed 79-18 on Tuesday, had House Members and staff scrambling to avert another direct vote on passage of the original House bill due to a potential revolt by House Democrats to bring down the House extension with the help of conservative Republicans. If that happened, the House Republicans may have wavered and attempted to negotiate a last-minute deal with the Senate, but Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster warned stakeholders that the House leaders would rather adjourn for recess without the trust fund bailout than consider the Senate bill.

Ultimately, a serious drafting error in the Senate-passed extension provided the extra leverage needed by House Republicans to stop the Senate bill from seeing the light of day in the House. The drafting error caused the Senate bill to violate House rules by creating a $2 billion hole in the general fund that was not offset, thus busting the budget. House Republican leaders were not willing to allow for a technical correction to the Senate bill to fix the error, instead offering only a vote on a simple motion to disagree with the Senate amendment, which ultimately garnered near unanimous support from Republicans and a good number of Democrats, including T&I Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV).

Today’s action in the House leaves the Senate with no alternative that keeps the Highway Trust Fund solvent but to pass the House bill. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who was among the leaders of the effort to reduce the timeline to December, indicated yesterday that she would back down and not allow the Highway Trust Fund to go insolvent under any circumstances. President Obama has already indicated that he would sign the extension into law.

If Highway Users’ members have any questions about any of the action on HR 5021 and next steps, please do not hesitate to contact our President and CEO, Greg Cohen at 202-857-1200 or e-mail gregcohen@highways.org.

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