President Obama signed legislation on Oct. 1 that provides a one-month extension for the federal highway and transit programs as well as the appropriations for nearly all federal agencies. Obama also signed a separate bill that extends Federal Aviation Administration programs, including airport construction grants, for three months.
The larger of the two measures is a continuing resolution (CR), which contains funds to keep federal agencies operating through Oct. 31, as well as a one-month extension of the current surface-transportation authorization statute, the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act; a Legacy for Users. The CR was needed because Congress had not approved any of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2010, which began Oct. 1. The SAFETEA-LU extension was needed because that measure also expired Sept. 30.
Appropriations will continue for almost all federal agencies at their fiscal 2009 level. The CR does provide full 2010 funding for legislative programs.
But in a move that strongly disappointed state transportation departments, lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have cancelled a SAFETEA-LU provision that rescinded $8.7 billion in highway contract authority on midnight Sept. 30. State agencies have been pushing hard to have the rescission revoked.
Hours before the rescission's midnight Sept. 30 trigger, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee's top GOP member, attempted to have that chamber pass a three-month highway-transit extension that included repealing the rescission. But unnamed Republicans objected to the budgetary offset that Inhofe and Boxer recommended: drawing $300 million from Troubled Assets Relief Program funds.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) suggested an alternative offset: using some of the unspent money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but Boxer objected to that, leaving the issue at a standstill.
The fate of the surface transportation authorization and the $8.7-billion rescission was unclear. The House has passed a three-month SAFETEA-LU extension, which would allow the rescission to go into effect. Three Senate committees have approved 18-month SAFETEA-LU extensions, which also are silent about the rescission.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a House committee hearing Oct. 1 that the Obama administration continues to support an 18-month extension.
The newly enacted appropriations extensions give Congress a little more time to complete work on the 11 unfinished fiscal 2010 spending bills. In fact, the measure funding energy and water programs received final House approval on Oct. 1.