The House on Tuesday approved a plan to patch a hole in the Highway Trust Fund, a bipartisan vote that bodes well for the coming vote on the Senate side yet does nothing to address the systemic shortfall in federal transportation infrastructure funding.
The vote, 367 to 55, was in a favor of a bill that collects an extra $11 billion for the trust fund ahead of its going broke in August. Without the added cash the Department of Transportation has said reimbursements to the states would be restricted, putting road and bridge projects – and hundreds of thousands of jobs – in jeopardy.
Ahead of the vote, the White House issued a statement of policy in support of the bill’s “continuity of funding” during peak construction season, but President Obama later on Tuesday scolded lawmakers and called for support of the administration’s four-year transportation reauthorization.
“Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road, careening from crisis to crisis,” Obama said in a tour of a Virginia transportation research center. “We should be investing in the future.”
A couple of influential conservative groups came out against the bill. Both the Club for Growth and Heritage Action added the vote to their legislative scorecards, objecting to the use long-term accounting gimmicks to pay for the short-term repair of a broken program.
“Instead of governing by emergency fiat and continually kicking the can down the road, conservative reformers have an opportunity to focus their colleagues and their constituents on a real solution – putting more of this authority in the hands of states and localities and actually reforming highway policy,” said Heritage Action’s CEO Michael A. Needham.
Still, House Speaker John Boehner brushed off conservative criticism a took a glass-half-full view of the half-hearted support from the White House.
“On the whole, this bill is good news for workers and taxpayers, and we appreciate the president’s support for our responsible approach,” Boehner said. “We certainly hope he will urge Senate Democrats to pass this bill so we can prevent highway projects from shutting down in a matter of weeks.”
But while the funding measures in the bill have bipartisan support in the Senate, leadership in the Democrat-controlled chamber could still cause problems. Both Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden and Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer want to pass a multi-year transportation bill in a lame duck session after the November elections. EPW has passed the policy portion, while Finance has to find a way to pay for it. The House bill would extend the additional funding through next May, however, and take the pressure off Congress to act before the end of the year.
Majority Leader Harry Reid will have to make the call on the Senate vote ahead of the August congressional recess.