As Congress returns from its August recess, many important construction-related bills remain incomplete. They include all of the fiscal 2007 spending measures, a big water resources bill and immigration and tax legislation. With only a few weeks to go before lawmakers leave to campaign full-time for the Nov. 7 elections, final action by then isn't likely on most of the unfinished bills. That makes a post-election session virtually inevitable.

As of Sept. 5, none of the 2007 appropriations bills had cleared Congress. Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies' vice president for government affairs, says that before the pre-election recess, "I think they can make some small progress on the appropriations front." Furthest along are homeland security and defense spending bills. Hall says most of the other measures "will get done post election."

Larry Bory, HDR vice president for federal government relations, predicts lawmakers will wrap most of the appropriations bills into a "continuing resolution" that may fund programs "for at least two months, maybe three." Then, he expects they will pass an omnibus bill to set final spending levels for 2007.

Unfinished Business Includes:
FISCAL 2007   House passed 10 of its 11 bills; Senate approved 1 of 12.

Conferees aim to merge differing House and Senate WRDA bills. Key issue: Corps project reviews.

IMMIGRATION Big split between House and Senate bills. Odds for a deal are long.
ESTATE TAX   May try again to pass package of estate tax cut, minimum wage hike, extensions of expiring tax breaks.

May be attempt to revive Senate bill after it was blocked in May.

source: construction industry officials, ENR  

Odds may be better for enacting the first Water Resources Development Act since 2000. In July the Senate passed a bill authorizing an es-timated $13 billion for Corps of Engineers projects. It will have to be melded with a $12-billion bill the House cleared last year. A key issue is how much outside review Congress will mandate for big Corps projects.The Senate bill is more demanding on that point than the House's.

Prospects are iffier for cutting the estate tax, hiking the minimum wage and extending expiring tax breaks, notably one for research and development spending. Senate Republicans linked the three items in a "trifecta," but that was blocked in late July. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) may try again to pass the three-part plan. But ACEC's Hall says, "I would put that in the long-shot category."

Construction officials have been watching bills that would revamp immigration policy. The Associated General Contractors is concerned about provisions that would be "punitive" for employers, says Jeffrey Shoaf, senior executive director for government and public affairs. But the huge gap between the bills passed by the House and Senate may doom the legislation for this year.