Congress Extends Road Funds by 90 Days
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WASHINGTON -- Unable to come to agreement on highway funding and eager to start a two-week recess, Congress on Thursday passed a 90-day stopgap measure to continue paying for the nation's highways and infrastructure programs, averting a halt in road and infrastructure projects because of the inability of lawmakers to agree on a broader transportation measure.
The measure is the ninth extension since a $286 billion, multiyear plan ended in 2009; had Congress taken no action, the current extension would have expired over the weekend. It passed the House by 266 to 158, with 10 Republicans voting against the measure and 37 Democrats voting for it.
Roughly two hours later, the Senate agreed to the measure by voice vote, even though Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, immediately railed against the legislation.
The impasses over a long-term measure stem both from partisan differences over how to best address a dwindling highway trust fund, brought about in part by increases in fuel efficiency in cars, and divisions among House Republicans over legislation that has in the past cleared Congress with bipartisan support.
Two weeks ago, the Senate easily passed a bipartisan bill that would have financed the program for two years at a cost of $109 billion.
The House transportation committee passed its own version earlier this year, a five-year, $260 billion measure that would have been paid for in part with revenues from new drilling projects, including a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
But Republicans never brought the measure to the House floor, because some party members said the price tag was too high, others were unhappy with the removal of dedicated funds for public transportation and others still did not like the drilling component.
House Republicans, stymied but unwilling to take up the Senate measure, which Speaker John A. Boehner said was not paid for in an acceptable way, instead went with the short-term bill.
"Some of the pay-fors," said Mr. Boehner in a news conference, referring to offsets to pay for a bill, "I don't think pass the straight-face test, and we will deal with that when we get to conference." He declined to offer specifics.
The bill prompted a lively and at times rancorous debate, reflecting the increased partisan tensions in Congress as the election year heats up. Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, at one point referred to some Republican members as "bozos" for their displeasure over federal money for transportation.
The remark displeased Representative John L. Mica, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House transportation committee and who has been at the center of the battle over this bill.
Republicans have generally been loath to pass short-term bills -- they loudly balked at a short-term payroll tax holiday measure last year, citing uncertainty that short-terms bills sow -- but made an exception in this case.
"It's really apples and oranges," said Representative Lou Barletta, Republican of Pennsylvania. "This is just so we can continue to do construction while we do a longer bill."
First Published March 30, 2012 12:01 am