With the Highway Trust Fund facing a shortfall within weeks, Congress has approved a $7-billion infusion for the fund's highway account, a move that backers of the legislation say will be enough to keep the account solvent through Sept. 30.
The new money will be transferred from the general fund.
Final Congressional action on the short-term trust-fund rescue came July 30, when the Senate approved the 'fix' by a 79-17 vote. That followed House passage of the measure the previous day, on a 363-68 tally.
President Obama is expected to sign the measure, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
But that would only end Round One of the Capitol Hill highway debate. Things will heat up again after the August recess, because the current authorization for surface transportation programs--the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users--is due to expire Sept. 30.
The Senate vote capped a flurry of congressional activity on the trust fund. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar
(D-Minn.) on July 23 proposed a $3-billion, short-term injection. Five days later, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that upped the ante to $5 billion. By the time the measure got to the House floor, it had risen to $7 billion, reportedly at the insistence of lawmakers in the Senate
The Obama administration and some key Senate lawmakers had advocated a larger remedy for the trust fund. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) proposed a $26.8-billion injection. Three Senate committees sought to couple that bailout with an 18-month extension for the highway and transit programs.
But House transportation panel Chairman Oberstar strongly opposes an extension. Instead, he has been pressing for a $500-billion, six-year reauthorization which would also include money for inter-city rail.
Speaking on the House floor before the vote on the $7-billion bill, Oberstar made his views clear, saying, "This is an infusion, not an extension."
So the sides remain drawn over reauthorization. "They're going to have to address this in one way or another in September," says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors' highway and transportation division.