Congress Passes Highway Funding Patch as Infrastructure Bill Stalls (Forconstrucionpros)

Funding for surface transportation projects had expired on Thursday until the Senate passed the 30-day short-term extension.

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Last week, House Democrats failed to reach an agreement that would allow the chamber to approve the $1 trillion infrastructure package and surface transportation reauthorization. As a result, lawmakers had to issue an extension of the surface highway program as the authority to spend federal highway and public transportation funds was in a temporary lapse.

The Department of Transportation furloughed roughly 3,700 workers on Friday after Congress failed to pass an extension of federal highway funding by an end-of-September deadline amid a stalemate in the House on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said the failure “lapses our highway, transit, and highway safety programs and halts work on vital transportation infrastructure around the country, which is detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities.”

Jim Tymon, the group’s executive director, said it meant “$50 billion of federal surface transportation programs supported by the Highway Trust Fund were suspended.

The Senate returned for a weekend session, and passed a 30-day extension for highway funding by unanimous consent.

Impasse Delays Progress

The party’s progressive and moderate wings remained at an impasse on a path forward for a $3.5 trillion social infrastructure and climate change reconciliation package and progressives are withholding their votes for the infrastructure bill until a resolution is reached. Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and need support from virtually all members in the chamber to overcome the opposition from most Republicans to the historic infrastructure investment bill.

After President Biden visited Capitol Hill, he had brief remarks regarding the ongoing negotiations on his major economic package.

“Doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done,” Biden said.

The high-stakes visit to the Hill by the President comes as some Democrats have been calling for Biden to play a more active role in the negotiation process. Inaction has caused the industry and those in Washington to question if the infrastructure bill will have enough support to ever pass.

House Republicans who were previously planning to support the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill are now rethinking their votes after President Biden’s visit to the Hill today, saying it’s clear that the bill is linked to reconciliation, according to GOP sources.

“All bets are off,” said Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, one of the few Republicans who publicly said he would back the bill.

Bacon said he is now rethinking his vote and has talked to several GOP colleagues during the last vote series who either have already switched from “yes” to “no” in their minds or are considering it.Bacon, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, also said he talked to a moderate House Democrat who is furious with Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not keeping her promise to hold the infrastructure vote this week.

Meanwhile, U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley felt compelled to issue a statement after the House failed to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill:

“There is no bigger supporter of a bipartisan infrastructure bill than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Respectfully, the president is wrong. This bill should have been enacted six years ago. There was a chance to enact it six weeks ago. Delay has consequences and none of them are good for the American people. We urge the House of Representatives to pass the infrastructure bill as soon as possible.”    

Tom Smith, Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) agreed stating:

“American families and businesses are paying the price while the House plays politics and fails to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), a historic piece of legislation that would have monumental impacts on the economy, public safety, global competitiveness, and each American’s well-being. After decades of kicking the can down the road on meaningful infrastructure legislation, Congress is missing an extraordinary chance to reverse this unsustainable trend with passage of the IIJA, instead choosing to allow critical projects to be delayed.

“This legislation was passed in a strong vote by the Senate on August 10th, and almost two months later, it sits on the sidelines as the federal program for transit, roads, and bridges expired on September 30th and projects come grinding to a halt. While other countries are making investments in their future, we are letting politics steal this opportunity to move forward.

“It does not have to be this way. This comprehensive bill would bring relief to communities facing strained power grids, aging bridges, leaking water pipes, and spotty broadband. American families do not want to have to wonder if their power will stay on in the next storm, if the bridge connecting their community will close for emergency repairs, or if a week of virtual school means their child will miss out.

“We urge the House to pass this bipartisan, commonsense legislation today to create jobs, make goods and services move more quickly and reliably, and make American communities more climate-resilient. Our infrastructure bill has come due, and now is the time to act.”

For the asphalt road building industry, the time is now to enact long-lasting and sustainable funding. National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) President and CEO Audrey Copeland, Ph.D., P.E., issued the following statement

“On behalf of our 1,200 members and the quarter-million workers supporting the asphalt pavement industry, the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) expresses deep disappointment over Congress’ failure to come together to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill. Instead, by putting forth yet another short-term extension, the House has moved the goal post once again. Long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure is the only path to securing America’s economic vitality. The country cannot afford another short-term extension.

 

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) would put an end to short-term extensions and frantic budget planning, bring predictability to states as they plan and implement long-delayed infrastructure improvements, provide reliability to the network, expand transportation equity, ensure public safety, and create new jobs for American workers. NAPA, its member companies, their employees, and highway users across this country call on Congress to act now to pass H.R. 3684.

“Our industry, and the American people, call upon every Member of Congress to work together to pass this legislation without further delay. Our workers stand ready to rebuild America, if only Congress will provide the leadership needed to fund long-overdue, predictable, and forward-looking infrastructure projects across the United States. We have been waiting far too long. Pass H.R 3684 now so we can get to work.”

What Happens Now?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter to her caucus on Friday night said negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on the reconciliation bill have made “great progress,” but that “more time is needed to complete the task.”

She set a new deadline of Oct. 31 for the House to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, when the 30-day reauthorization of federal highway programs expires again.

“There is an October 31st Surface Transportation Authorization deadline, after last night’s passage of a critical 30-day extension,” Pelosi wrote. “We must pass BIF [infrastructure bill] well before then – the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there.”

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