Unable to reach agreement on Feb. 25 on the Senate long-term extension of the highway program, the House by voice vote passed a 30-day extension of several programs including the Highway Trust Fund at the low pro rata rate currently provided by the continuing resolution and sent it to the Senate, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) reports.
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ken.) objected to moving the House-passed extension bill, because he contends it would add to the deficit. He wanted his amendment to cut $12 billion in unobligated stimulus funds to offset the cost of the bill. Knowing that his amendment would not pass, he continued to object to a vote on the bill. At 11:40 a.m. today, the Senate adjourned for the week without taking action on legislation to provide an extension of the programs set to expire at midnight on Feb. 28.
Accordingly, expenditure authority for the HTF will shut down at that time. Expenditure authority for administrative expenses from the HTF does not expire until 24 hours after the rest of the expenditure authority from the trust fund, so staff furloughs at FHWA, FMCSA and NHTSA would not start until the morning of March 2. Once furloughs take effect, staff will not be present to approve project funding from the general fund or new project funding under the stimulus law.
The Senate goes back into session on March 1 at 2:00 p.m., but is not expected to take any votes until after 12:15 p.m. on the afternoon of March 2 unless Bunning changes his mind. Senate rules allow him to extend the process for most of next week. The earliest a cloture motion could be filed is March 2 and it would not be ripe for a vote until March 4 or March 5.
Meanwhile, action on the Senate extension stalled in the House due to opposition of House liberals who feel the bill is not large enough; conservative Democrats who oppose the bill because it violates pay-go rules; and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) who objects to the way the Senate bill treats funding from certain accounts under the SAFETEA-LU law. The House could vote to pass the Senate bill without changes to solve the issue. If changes are made, however, it must go back to the Senate for another week-long cloture process.
Oberstar said on a conference call today that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had reached agreement on moving the Senate jobs bill as is next week. Oberstar received a commitment from Reid that no funds would be expended from the contested accounts until the problem of funds distribution is addressed in subsequent legislation.
The quickest way for the issue to be resolved is for the House to pass the Senate long-term extension so that work can begin on a multi-year reauthorization bill. If action on the extension is completed early next week, the impact on the aggregates industry would be negligible (more or less like a snow day to the Federal Highway Administration).
NSSGA continues to urge the quickest resolution and passage of an extension. NSSGA will continue to keep members advised of developments.