Stopgap Spending Bill is on Tap, Again
As Congress returns from its August break, a top priority for engineering and construction industry officials will be the spending levels lawmakers will set for infrastructure programs for fiscal year 2020. But with appropriations measures far from complete and fiscal 2020’s Oct. 1 start looming, lawmakers will turn to their familiar fallback—a stopgap measure to keep federal agencies operating and avoid a government shutdown.
Among other legislation, a wide-ranging infrastructure megapackage of $1 trillion or more looks dead. Industry officials are hoping for further action this year on a surface transportation bill, at least in the Senate. But legislation recommending how to raise the desired additional revenue for that bill seems to be an exceedingly long shot.
A House Democratic aide said via email Sept. 9 that the chamber will take up a continuing resolution (CR) during the week of Sept. 16 that would fund all departments and agencies. “We expect it to extend funding through late November or early December,” the staffer said.
Transportation and construction groups want to see the stopgap include a provision to repeal a $7.6-billion highway funding rescission scheduled to take effect July 1, 2020. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, at ENR press time, was preparing a multigroup letter urging legislators to cancel the highway rescission, says Joung Lee, AASHTO policy director.
Overall, the hope is that the CR will give appropriations committees enough breathing room to finish work on spending measures to extend through next Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2020.
Before the August recess, the House had passed 10 of the 12 appropriations measures that each fund one or more departments or agencies.
The Senate had approved none of its 12 bills. Lawmakers there waited for a deal on overall 2020 defense and nondefense spending caps, which would guide them in determining how much they could allocate among the 12 bills. But with the Aug. 2 enactment of legislation setting the caps for the next two years, the Senate Appropriations Committee is ready to start moving. At ENR press time, it had scheduled votes on Sept. 12 on the first four of the 2020 measures, including the one covering Army Corps of Engineers civil works and most Dept. of Energy programs.
After President Donald Trump abruptly ended a May 22 meeting on a possible comprehensive infrastructure package with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), prospects for a major bill have all but evaporated.
Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for government relations, says, “I’m confident that there will be infrastructure bills—plural—and not just one infrastructure bill.” Of those possible bills, the most desired is the highway-transit reauthorization. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on July 30 approved one big part of that package, a five-year, $287-billion highway measure. But other key elements aren’t yet on the horizon. Chief among them is a revenue provision, which in the Senate is up to the Finance Committee. The House, of course, also would have to draft its version of each of the bill’s parts. AASHTO’s Lee says, “I understand that the House has said they’d like to aim for early next calendar year.”