House passes highway funding patch

With only a few legislative days left on the calendar, the 33rd short-term US transportation funding measure in six years now awaits Senate and executive approval.

As the deadline to reauthorise spending from the nearly depleted Highway Trust Fund (HTF) draws alarmingly near, the US House of Representatives passed an eleventh-hour short-term funding measure that will keep HTF dollars flowing through the end of July.

The measure was passed 387-35, and if subsequently approved by the Senate and President Barack Obama prior to May 31, will extend legal authority to draw money from the HTF for ongoing transportation projects around the US through July 31.

Maryland Representative John Delaney, who authored the Infrastructure 2.0 Act – a long-term funding bill introduced in January that seeks to utilise a one-time corporate tax to refuel the Highway Trust Fund by providing enhanced spending authority for six years and creating a $50 billion infrastructure fund for state and local projects – expressed a measure of consternation about the inability of Congress to collectively pass an adequate long-term transportation funding package following the vote.

“We're facing a national infrastructure crisis and we can't rebuild America as long as Congress is stuck in neutral. It's time for both parties to get in gear and work together on a long-term highway bill so that state and local governments can start building and make smart long-term plans,” Delaney said. “Today's short-term extension avoids an immediate lapse but doesn't solve the problem.” 

According to a source close to the congressman, Delaney plans to continue building support for the Infrastructure 2.0 Act, which the source said is the leading bipartisan solution in Congress with growing consensus that the proposed approach to using international corporate tax reform is the best way to get a deal done. 

“For the last three years, I've met with over 200 members of Congress one-on-one to build support for this international corporate tax reform to pay for infrastructure,” Delaney said. “We have a bipartisan solution right in front of us that can pay for new infrastructure in a fiscally-responsible pro-growth way that creates jobs, rebuilds America and improves the lives of our constituents.”

In a blog post on the US Department of Transportation website authored by Transport Secretary Anthony Foxx, he said that while “on the surface, funding transportation drop-by-drop might not seem like such a big problem”, it is a big problem. 

“This era of short-term patches and chronic federal underinvestment has crippled America's ability to build the transportation system we need,” Foxx posted. 

And while the current situation is looking increasingly dire, Foxx said he had some good news to report as well.

“This morning, after the vote, the House introduced the long-term surface transportation bill that the President and I have been supporting all along – the Grow America Act,” Foxx said. “Our proposal would provide six years of funding certainty and robust funding for all modes of surface transportation. It would invest $478 billion in surface transportation, growing overall investment by 45 percent.”

The Grow America Act, much like Delaney's infrastructure 2.0 Act, relies on a corporate tax reform and a one-time repatriation of tax on revenues that American corporations have moved overseas.

While a source close to Delaney said that the congressman's focus at the moment is on promoting the Infrastructure 2.0 Act, his team is appreciative of the President's strong support for new infrastructure investment, noting that “there are a lot of good ideas in the Grow America Act”.  

Foxx ended his blog post by saying he was optimistic and hopeful that the “current streak will end at 33” short-term measures, and that a long-term funding package was right around the corner. 

Despite this optimism, House Republicans are less inclined to commit to a streak-ending long-term transportation funding package, meaning it's possible that a 34th measure will be required before the summer is over. But with the HTF running on empty, such a measure would also require authorization from the general fund-a reportedly unpopular prospect. 

At the moment, the current short-term patch still requires Senate and executive approval prior to enactment. With only a few legislative days left until current spending authorisation expires, the US government will have to do something it's not exactly known for being capable of in order to keep the proverbial ball rolling: it will have to move quickly.