Just a day before current funding was set to expire, the Senate on Oct. 28 approved by voice vote the short highway-bill extension that had been passed by the House a day earlier. The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015 (H.R. 3819) will fund and extend the authorization for federal highway and transit programs for just 22 days-- through November 20.
As brief as this patch will last, transportation-policy leaders on Capitol Hill contend that a long-term highway bill can make it through Congress before the new funding deadline is tripped.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, said as much in a joint statement released after the vote: “We are pleased that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced a six-year surface transportation bill last week and that the bill is slated to be considered on the House floor next week. It is time for the House and Senate to get to conference so that we can work out our differences and get the job done now. There are no excuses for further delay.”
The multi-year House bill — the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 — that the senators referenced would authorize spending up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years, including $261 billion dedicated to highways.
The STRR Act was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Oct. 22 and is now awaiting floor action.
But even if passed soon by the full House, that long-term measure will still need to be funded. That falls under the purview of the House Ways and Means Committee, whose Chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), was elected the 54th Speaker of the House on Oct. 29.
Back in July, the Senate passed its own multi-year highway bill, which includes a funding mechanism. So, once the House passes its bill, the two chambers will have to conference to iron out any differences before a final measure can be approved and sent to President Obama to sign.