U.S. Capitol Photo: David Cullen

U.S. Capitol Photo: David Cullen

A bipartisan bill to extend the authorization for federal highway and transit programs through Dec. 4 was introduced in the House Monday, Nov. 16.

The announcement of the short-term patch comes with less than five days left for Congress to complete the conferencing process and pass a long-term highway bill before the current funding extension expires on Nov. 20

The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, Part II (H.R. 3996) was introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), T&I Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Ways & Means Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI).

“The House and Senate are making good progress in resolving differences between their respective multi-year surface transportation reauthorization proposals,” Rep. Shuster said in a statement.  “The conference committee needs the time necessary to meet in public, complete negotiations, and produce a final measure that helps improve America’s infrastructure.”

Shuster called the proposed measure a “clean extension” and stated that it “provides time for that process to occur and for the House and Senate to vote on the final legislation, without shutting down transportation programs and projects in the meantime.”

Earlier in the day, it appeared such a bill might be in the offing, as House GOP leaders had advised lawmakers that “possible consideration of a short-term extension to the Highway Trust Fund” might be on the daily agenda.

That possibility had been indicated by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a post detailing his legislative schedule for the week of Nov. 16. The House was slated to meet Monday at 2 pm EST for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30 pm.

The highway bill (STRR Act) passed by the House on Nov. 5 and the highway bill passed by the Senate (DRIVE Act) in July are in the hands of the conference committee charged with working out any differences between the two measures.

Once the conference committee has hammered out a compromise, the resulting bill will go to the House and Senate for a final vote. At that point, it will not be open to further amendment so the conference process affords the last opportunity to modify any element of what appears will be, with President Obama’s signature, the first highway bill passed in ten years that funds infrastructure projects beyond two years.

If the conference committee does not complete its work by Nov. 20, a short-term measure will again need to be passed to extend funding authorization for highways. If such a bill is passed, it will be the 36th time a patch has been slapped in place to ensure highway funding since 2009.