The Senate on Thursday passed a 10-month funding bill that will prevent the Highway Trust Fund from going broke until the end of May. The bill was first passed by the House earlier this month, and is now just a presidential signature away from becoming law.
The bill’s clearance in Congress comes after a showdown between the House and Senate this week, as the Senate on Tuesday passed its own short-term funding patch that would have ensured solvency of the HTF only through December and would have required a post-election lame-duck Congress to figure out a longer-term solution.
However, the issue now likely will not be taken up until after the next Congress is elected.
The House voted 272-150 Thursday, July 31, on a motion to “disagree” with the Senate’s changes to its bill, before the lower chamber adjourned for a five-week recess.
The House’s vote left the matter up to the Senate, who faced the choice to either pass the House’s version of the bill or allow the Highway Trust Fund to run out of money.
The Department of Transportation said in early July it would have to begin restricting reimbursements to states for highway projects, as the Highway Trust fund is projected to run dry in August.
For now, however, Congress has bought the department 10 more months.
The Senate version had been preferred by trucking and construction trade groups, because it would have forced Congressional action on finding long-term funding this year, rather than dragging out the debate into the spring.
“While we’re relieved that H.R. 5021 is on its way to the president’s desk, this isn’t a moment to celebrate,” Associated Equipment Distributors president & CEO Brian McGuire said in a prepared statement. “By waiting until the last minute to solve a problem we’ve known for years was coming, Congress brought the highway program and the construction industry to the brink of disaster.”
“We hope this exercise has underscored to everyone on Capitol Hill that the Highway Trust Fund is in dire shape and needs additional revenues, be it from a gas tax increase or some other source. Providing the infrastructure that allows the economy to function is a core obligation of federal government. Now it’s up to Congress to fulfill that obligation and put the HTF back on the road to long-term solvency.”
Association of Equipment Manufacturers president Dennis Slater said his group looks forward to the President’ signature on the bill but chided lawmakers for punting the issue once more.
“However, the mere fact that lawmakers punted—instead of summoning the courage to craft a long-term, sustainably financed solution to the Highway Trust Fund—is perfectly emblematic of this Congress. While a laudable few lawmakers deserve credit for their efforts to tackle this problem, many other members of Congress deserve tough questions from their constituents during the coming August recess,” Slater said in a prepared statement.
“Fixing the Highway Trust Fund should be a top priority in the next Congress. Already, there are dozens of possible options lawmakers could consider to raise new revenue from user fees. AEM and its hundreds of members whose businesses depend on a safe and reliable highway system will forcefully advocate for these commonsense solutions in the coming months.”
Editor’s Note: James Jaillet is the news editor for sister sites Overdrive and CCJ.