As Congress returns from its August recess, several major construction bills are pending, including a $21-billion Water Resources Development Act, a four-year aviation reauthorization and fiscal 2008 appropriations. WRDA is near final congressional approval, but Sept. 30 deadlines loom for aviation and appropriations, and those bills are far from done. Congress may have to pass stopgap bills to keep that federal aid flowing.
The struggle to enact the first WRDA since December 2000 may soon end. By a strong 381-40 vote, the House on Aug. 1 passed a compromise worked out with Senate negotiators. A final Senate floor vote may come this month. "I think it's going to pass overwhelmingly," says one source. "I can't see how the bill can get fewer than 75 to 80 votes." If the Senate majority follows the House's, it would exceed the two-thirds needed to override a promised veto.
Aviation legislation isn’t as far along as WRDA. House and Senate transportation panels have approved authorizations, including $15.4 billion for Airport Improvement Program construction grants. But the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees still need to approve aviation tax titles.
With financing and other major issues unresolved, "I don't see a lot of hope between now and Sept. 30 for that bill," says Jeffrey D. Shoaf, Associated General Contractors' senior executive director for government and public affairs.
There’s been little progress on 2008 appropriations. The House cleared all 12 of the individual spending bills, but the Senate passed only one, homeland security, by Sept. 3.
But the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2008 is almost here, and the Republican Study Committee says there’s enough House GOP support to sustain vetoes threatened for many appropriations bills, making short-term continuing resolutions likely.
The homeland security bill and the veterans-military construction measure have a chance of being enacted on their own. The rest may be combined into an omnibus package. Says Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs, “I think we’re going to be in session well into the fall.”