Advance Notice: Briefs

Congress clears temporary extension of federal transportation programs

By: - October 29, 2021 5:57 am

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The U.S. House on Thursday night approved another short-term patch for funding of federal transportation programs, essential for keeping roads money flowing to states despite an impasse in Congress.

The bill, passed 358-59, would keep programs running at funding levels first approved in 2015 as lawmakers and the White House seek a bargain to pass both a $1.2 trillion transportation infrastructure bill and a larger spending plan for social programs. The Senate also passed it, under a unanimous consent agreement, so the bill now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Progressive and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill have for months haggled over the two bills that together make up the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda.

The extension gives them until Dec. 3 to reach consensus, but was an admission that they could not do so before the Oct. 31 expiration of surface transportation funding.

The physical infrastructure bill, which the Senate passed on a bipartisan vote in August, would authorize roads, bridges and transit spending programs for five years. It would add $600 billion above the current baseline for traditional transportation programs.

The bipartisan bill also includes money for electric vehicle charging stations and replacing drinking water pipes.

In a Thursday letter to House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted those and other environmental provisions in the bill.

“This package is a critical step to combat climate change, increase resilience, and advance environmental justice,” she wrote.

But on the whole, progressives have said the bill does too little to confront climate change.

Democrats instead included more aggressive climate measures, and dozens of other initiatives, in the spending package that they plan to pass through the legislative process known as reconciliation that requires a simple majority in the Senate instead of the standard 60 votes.

House progressives have said for months they would not vote for the bipartisan transportation measure unless the larger spending package is approved at the same time.

Moderate Democrats, most prominently Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, opposed several core provisions of the social policy plan.

If Congress does pass the spending bill, it will be in a slimmer form than the $3.5 trillion House committees cobbled together in August and September.

The White House released a $1.75 trillion framework Thursday morning.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.