With a voice vote on Saturday, the U.S. Senate approved the two-month extension of the highway bill that was passed by the House of Representatives last Tuesday. The legislation, which will fund transportation projects only through July, now awaits the expected signature of President Obama.
The White House indicated in a May 19 policy statement that the President will sign the measure and scolded Congress for its failure yet again to craft a multiyear authorization bill.
Contending that this latest measure “represents yet one more short-term extension coming on top of the several short-term extensions that preceded it,” the Administration said that it “expects that the Congress will use this two-month extension to make meaningful and demonstrable progress towards a significant bill in 2015.”
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials expressed its dismay that another short-term patch has been slapped on the highway bill. "We are disappointed and frustrated," said Bud Wright, AASHTO executive director, in a statement. "This two-month extension is a reflection of the inability of Congress to fund a long-term surface transportation bill, which has caused uncertainty among our members.
“State DOTs are already postponing construction projects this year because they can't count on federal funds to be there,” he continued. “Millions of dollars that should be flowing into communities, creating jobs and paying for projects to improve safety and mobility, aren't being funded. Congress must find the political will to pass a long-term bill and put these short-term patches aside."
To be sure, finding that political will won’t be easy. While raising fuel taxes remains anathema to many lawmakers, no other funding fix— including the taxing of overseas corporate earnings-- has yet gained traction in this Congress.
On the other hand, a statement issued after the Senate vote by the Chairman, Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, urged Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion to at last quickly craft a long-term highway bill.
The two Senators said “it's time we end this costly uncertainty with the Highway Trust Fund. The only solution to fixing this problem is to enact a consensus-based, bipartisan, six-year surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and the certainty they need to plan and construct multi-year projects to modernize our infrastructure.”
Inhofe and Boxer also stated that their committee “continues to make progress” on such a bill and has set June 24 as its goal for marking up that legislation.