As Congress begins a short pre-election session, its must-pass list includes construction measures with Sept. 30 deadlines: appropriations for fiscal year 2011, which starts on Oct. 1, and a Federal Aviation Administration authorization that covers airport grants. A bill aimed at aiding small businesses also is advancing. With only a few weeks left before a congressional recess, action on other bills probably will be deferred until an expected lame-duck session.
In that post-election session, Congress would face decisions on extending income-tax breaks, Build America bonds and surface-transportation program—all of which expire on Dec. 31. Other measures, including an energy bill, may have to wait until 2011.
By early October, observers expect Congress to fund agencies in part of fiscal 2011 through a continuing resolution. John Doyle, special counsel at law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, “There certainly will be a [continuing resolution] to carry them past the election ... The question is: how much past?” Jeffrey Shoaf, Associated General Contractors’ senior executive director for government affairs, says, “The appropriations solution may be a two-month solution. The Democrats would like to push it into next year, but I think Republicans don’t want to.”
House and Senate negotiators are close to a deal on a delayed, multiyear FAA bill, industry officials say. Since the last long-term bill expired in 2007, FAA programs have had 15 extensions. If lawmakers can’t agree on a multiyear bill by Sept. 30, there will be another stopgap.
A long-term highway-transit bill is also high on construction’s agenda. The last such bill lapsed in 2009. Brian Pallasch, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives, says besides House-Senate policy differences, “you’ve got the issue of how do you actually pay for this piece of legislation?” That unanswered question resulted in extensions. The latest one expires on Dec. 31.
President Obama’s proposed $50 billion for transportation hasn’t seemed to boost a multiyear bill’s prospects. Doyle predicts another highway-transit stopgap “at least through the end of FY 11. ... I don’t think the election changes that.”
Fiscal 2011 appropriations
|Funding must be approved by Oct. 1. As of Sept. 13, House passed two of 12 spending bills; Senate approved none. Stopgap continuing resolution expected.|
|Latest of 15 extensions since 2007 expires on Sept. 30. If House, Senate negotiators don’t agree on new multiyear bill by Sept. 30, expect another stopgap.|
|Latest extension expires on Dec. 31. May be no action until lame-duck session. Likely result: another extension. Obama proposes $50-billion up front.|
|White House supports extending expiring breaks, except for highest-income level. GOP favors extension for all brackets. Obama also calls for accelerated write-offs and making research credit permanent.|
|Senate Majority Leader Reid says he will try again for a narrowly targeted bill that has oil-spill-related provisions.|
|Sources: congressional committees, congressional record, industry sources, ENR|