By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA
House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) this week walked back previous plans to release a multi-year federal surface transportation program reauthorization bill by Sept. 11 and proceed with committee consideration of the measure Sept. 17. According to multiple reports, Shuster told a meeting of his committee’s Republican members action would not occur until late September at the earliest.
The Senate passed its version of a six-year reauthorization bill July 30 and the highway and public transportation programs are currently operating under another in a long-line of short-term extensions—the latest of which expires Oct. 29. House members claimed in July when the latest extension was approved that they needed additional time to develop their own multi-year plan. These same sentiments were expressed by members of both chambers in July 2014 when Congress opted for a 10-month extension.
Members of Congress are facing a hectic fall schedule of deadlines and high profile issues outside the transportation arena. Furthermore, religious holidays and other activities (i.e., a visit from the Pope) in the next couple week and House recesses the weeks of Sept. 21 and Oct. 12 mean members are only in session 20 more days between now and the end of October.
Shuster and T&I Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) signaled Sept. 10 another extension is almost certain. They cited the challenges of getting a bill out of the relevant committees, passed by the House and then negotiated with the Senate in those 20 days—plus, needing to agree on a way to pay for the bill—as reasons for further delay.
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Sept. 10 he’s still operating as if Oct. 29 is the deadline. Ryan said he is unfazed by reports of the HTF remaining solvent well into FY 2016 and that Republicans don’t want to wait until the account is exhausted.
Ryan also said that it is unclear if his preferred way of garnering revenues for the HTF—which involves re-writing the tax code for U.S.-based multi-national corporations—will be ready for action this year. That means alternative resources may have to be found for a long-term highway and transit bill.
ARTBA and 68 other stakeholder groups urged all House members in a Sept. 11 letter to push forward on a long-term reauthorization bill this year. Transportation advocates will continue to pressure the House to keep negotiating and pass a bill before the Oct. 29 deadline.