Before Congress left last month for a two-week recess, it made progress on a multi-year transportation bill. But as legislators returned, prospects were dimming that a new measure would be wrapped up by May 31, when the latest highway and transit extension expires. Also simmering on Capitol Hill are Corps of Engineers authorization, fiscal 2006 appropriations and a bill to let association member firms buy health insurance jointly.
The long-delayed transportation bill remains constructions top item. "Its our big focus right now," says Jeffrey D. Shoaf, Associated General Contractors senior executive director for government and public affairs. After House passage and Senate committee approval in March, the next stop is the Senate floor. "Were still trying to work to get floor time," says Will Hart, an Environment and Public Works Committee spokesman. But possible partisan battles in the Senate over confirming judges "could really slow things down the rest of the year," Shoaf says. That could make a final transport bill impossible by May 31. If the Senate doesnt act soon, "A short extension is becoming increasingly likely," says Laurence D. Bory, a vice president with HDR.
Delayed even longer is a bill authorizing new Corps projects. The last Water Resources Development Act was signed in December 2000. In the last Congress, the House passed a successor bill but the Senate did not. A House panel has begun hearings on a new WRDA. In the Senate, "Were hoping that were able to get to the WRDA bill this month," Hart says.
Construction spending faces a pinch in 2006. With the federal deficit looming over appropriators, "Theyve got their work cut out for them," says Casey Dinges, American Society of Civil Engineers vice president for external affairs. "This is...probably the single biggest challenge facing our industry in Congress this year," adds Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president for government affairs. The spending picture "doesnt look promising," says HDRs Bory. "But...I think theres a lot of interest by members of Congress in making sure theyve got a good track record" for 2006s elections.
In other areas, an association health bill has cleared a House committee but the Senate hasnt moved. An energy bill is stirring: The House Energy and Commerce Committee is drafting a package.
On the Agenda for Congress
|Transportation||House, Senate panels approve bills, but little time left before stopgap lapses|
|FY 2006 Appropriationsededff||House, Senate hearings started, construction spending under pressure|
|Water Resources||No bills yet in House or Senate|
|Association health plans House committee approval, no Senate movement yet|| |
House committee approval, no Senate movement yet
|Energy||House committee crafting bill|
SOURCE: House, senate committees, ENR
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