The House has overwhelmingly approved a stopgap spending bill that would avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30 and provide a one-year extension of federal highway and transit programs—something construction, engineering and transportation advocacy groups have pushed hard for.
House passage of the continuing resolution, or CR, came on Sept. 22 in a 359-57 vote. One lawmaker voted "present."
Passage took place a day after House Democrats had released a different version of the stopgap measure that drew strong Republicans objections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attributed the main hangup to lack of enough assistance to farmers.
Negotiations resumed among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republicans. Early in the evening of Sept. 22, Pelosi announced the deal.. agreeing to the farm assistance, with modifications. Mnuchin agreed to added funding for nutritional aid.
Senate action on the CR is next, and assuming approval, the legislation would then go to the White House.
If Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill by the end of fiscal 2020, much of the federal government would cease operations.
The House-approved measure would keep funds flowing through Dec. 11—about a 10-week reprieve from a shutdown, but also requiring lawmakers to revisit the spending issue during the expected lame duck session.
For construction groups, the key win in the CR is its provision extending surface transportation programs for a full year.
To bolster the weakened Highway Trust Fund, the legislation includes a transfer of $13.6 billion from the general fund—$10.4 billion to the trust fund's highway account and $3.2 billion to its transit account.
The legislation also includes a $14-billion transfer to the airport trust fund, also from the general fund.
Infrastructure investment advocates, and their Capitol Hill allies, would have greatly preferred a multi-year highway-transit reauthorization. But when It became clear in recent weeks that outcome would not materialize, they turned to a Plan B—a one-year continuation.
Wide support for extension
Even with partisan fighting over the House Democrats’ initial version of the CR, the one-year extension provision drew support from key legislators from both parties.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement that he had “insisted” that the CR include a one-year transportation extension.
“Month-to-month extensions don’t provide the certainty states need,” he said. “We must make sure local governments can move forward with the construction projects that keep our economy moving.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and the panel’s top Republican, Sam Graves (Mo.), agreed.
DeFazio acknowledged that legislators hoped to produce a long-term highway-transit reauthorization. But he added that “the single most important factor right now is providing certainty to states and local governments that are under the strain of both the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.”
Graves said the one-year extension “will provide immediate, desperately needed certainty to state DOTs and transportation and construction industry workers across the country.”
The comments give construction and transportation organizations reason for optimism that a full-year highway transit continuation would be in the final package—if there is one.
Paul Skoutelas, American Public Transportation Association CEO, called the one-year transportation extension “critical” to the transit sector, contending . it would provide at least $12.6 billion for transit in fiscal 2021 and, by keeping federal agencies in operation into December, avert a $6-billion across-the-board spending reduction in transit funding on Sept. 30.