As the 111th Congress begins its new session, construction groups will be keeping an eye on House-Senate negotiations on a final health-care bill and Senate action on a jobs measure expected to include billions for infrastructure. Also on the agenda are successors to stopgap surface-transportation and aviation authorizations soon to lapse. Jeffrey Shoaf, the Associated General Contractors’ senior executive director for government affairs, says, “You’ve got the first quarter of this year chock-full of big issues.”
Talks continue on a final health-care bill (see below). Shoaf says lawmakers are “very close to getting it done but...every time they’ve voted on this they’ve been very close to losing.” The House bill passed 220-215. The Senate approved its bill 60-39, the minimum needed. For construction, a critical question is whether the final bill will include Senate language requiring small construction firms to provide employees with health insurance. Some industry groups support the provision; others want to see it deleted.
But the industry is united behind a new jobs bill. In December, the House passed a $154-billion measure including $47 billion for public works. In the Senate, Democrats are drawing up a proposal. “We’re hearing that it’ll probably come in a little smaller than the House [bill], probably tacking on an infrastructure bank proposal,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs. “I think the unemployment numbers help grease the skids to get a jobs bill, but there’s still a lot of barriers in the way.” One hurdle is how to pay for the new spending.
With the latest highway-transit authorization set to expire on Feb. 28, another extension is likely. One possibility is a stopgap through Sept. 30. The House jobs bill has such language.
The House has passed legislation aimed at cutting greenhouse gases. In the Senate, John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are working on a compromise plan. Brian Pallasch, American Society of Civil Engineers’ managing director for government relations, says the fate of climate-change legislation “is going to depend probably on what those three folks put together.”
|Health care||House, Senate negotiators are reconciling differing bills that passed each chamber. Construction industry is divided over Senate provision requiring small firms to provide coverage for its workers.|
|Surface transportation||Current stopgap authorization expires on Feb. 28.|
|Aviation||Latest extension runs out on March 31.|
|Jobs bill||House passed $154-billion package, including $47 billion for infrastructure. No Senate proposal has been unveiled yet.|
|Climate change||Senate environment committee cleared bill, with no GOP votes. Three senators are drafting new proposal. House passed its bill in June.|