The focus in the first week of the congressional post-election session was on both parties' new leadership lineups for 2007, particularly for House Democrats. But in terms of bills passed, the lame duck's record so far has been poor. With Congress slated to return in December for perhaps only one week, construction industry officials say the odds for passing pending bills are hard to handicap.
Rep. Hoyer (L) defeated Pelosi's pick for No. 2 job.
Topping the list of unfinished measures are most of the fiscal year 2007 appropriations. Only the bills financing the Depts. of Defense and Homeland Security have been enacted, but DOD construction is covered by a separate, still incomplete, bill. Lawmakers did approve a second stopgap spending measure, which President Bush signed Nov. 17, that keeps non-DOD, non-DHS accounts running until Dec. 8. But that continuing resolution sets funding at programs' 2006 level, or the amount recommended in the Senate or House measures for fiscal 2007, whichever of the three numbers is lowest.
Another "CR" stretching into January, or longer, is a strong possibility. Some legislators indicated they did not want the remaining appropriations bills to proceed separately, "in regular order," but instead favored combining them in a new stopgap, a Senate aide says.
If a new CR keeps the same spending terms as the current one, "that could be very bad for construction," says Karen Bachman, Associated General Contractors' congressional relations director for environment, federal markets and procurement. The highway obligation ceiling, for example, would be held at the 2006 mark of $35.7 billion. That is $3.4 billion below the level in 2007 bills the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed.
Construction also would like to see a new Water Resources Development Act, but an industry source says the odds are long for getting a House-Senate agreement. Even if there is a deal, "there's no assurance that they would be able to get it past the Senate floor," he adds. Also pending is a bill that would make technical corrections to 2005's SAFETEA-LU. The House passed a corrections measure, but it is stuck in the Senate.
No Photo Finish
The House leadership selections generally showed little drama, except the contest between current Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), and longtime senior appropriator John Murtha (Pa.) for Majority Leader, the number-two position. Though Murtha was backed by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), he lost to Hoyer, 149-86.