The Senate on Tuesday voted to prop up the Highway Trust Fund through December with a modified version of the bill the House passed last week, but those changes now set up a showdown between the chambers just three days before Congress is set to head home for the August recess.
The Department of Transportation has advised state roadbuilding authorities that federal payment schedules will be modified beginning Aug.1 if Congress cannot come up with additional money to make up for declining fuel tax revenues.
By a 66-31 vote, the Senate approved an amendment designed to force Congress to address a long-term solution to surface transportation funding in a post-election lame duck session.
The House plan would patch the shortfall through next May, and before the Senate vote Speaker John Boehner warned that he would not accept any changes.
The short-term extension proposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer, Tom Carper and Bob Corker still managed to gather enough bipartisan support.
“I remain deeply concerned that if we kick this can into next year that the next Congress – like so many Congresses before it – will be unable to summon the courage necessary to write a long-term plan for our nation’s infrastructure,” Corker said. “It’s this Congress’ responsibility to come up with a long-term solution. Not the next one. Our amendment would ensure that this Congress gets its job done this year.”
Added Boxer, who referred to one of the funding mechanisms in the House plan, “Our bill also turns away from smoke and mirrors by doing away with ‘pension smoothing,’ which is a dangerous gimmick that could lead to pensions being underfunded.”
American Trucking Associations applauded the Senate for adopting a shorter term patch and urged the House of Representatives to quickly follow suit.
“ATA believes the quickly passing a long-term, well-funded highway bill is in our national interest and we believe that a short-term patch to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent is the best way to achieve that,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “Continuing to manage our nation’s infrastructure by crisis is no way to provide America’s motorists and truckers with the world-class infrastructure they need. A December deadline averts near-term Highway Trust Fund default and provides ample time for lawmakers to resolve the long-term challenge facing the trust fund.”
The House now must decide whether to accept the changes to its bill or return the original to the Senate for reconsideration.