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Revolt Brews Over Short-Term Highway Trust Fund Bill (Updated)

Welch is looking for lawmakers in both parties who are fed up with short-term highway bill extensions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:52 p.m. |  A growing number of Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the House are coming out against any short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund.  

This week, they're signing on to a letter pledging they'll vote against another stopgap extension of the account funding transportation and infrastructure projects around the country. Rep. Peter Welch is leading the effort, and he currently has nine additional co-signers — seven Democrats and three Republicans. The Vermont Democrat is circulating the letter in hopes of gaining more signatures before forwarding the memo to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.  

"Enough is enough. America cannot afford to have Congress kick the can down the road while our roads and bridges continue to crumble and workers remain idle," the letter reads. "Going forward, we will only support a bill that adequately funds America’s pressing infrastructure needs for the next several years. ... We will vote against another short-term extension."  

House Democrats at the leadership level are also mulling a coordinated strategy regarding votes on the anticipated short-term bill. Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer suggested Tuesday his members were undecided on the issue, and much of the discussion at Thursday morning's meeting of senior whips centered on next step, according to sources present.  

The current patch, passed in August, expires at the end of this month, with Highway Trust Fund coffers due to dry up sometime in late July. Republican leaders have signaled they'll put another extension on the floor next week that likely would run to the end of the year, to give Congress time to negotiate a long-term highway bill ideally lasting six years.  

For Democrats in particular, rejecting the short-term bill is in part a protest of GOP leadership's failure in the nine months since the last patch to come up with a multi-year transportation and infrastructure plan. If enough Democrats and Republicans band together to sink the expected stopgap measure on the floor next week, stakeholders could be forced to hammer out a long-term solution.  

But with current legislation keeping the Highway Trust Fund afloat expiring in just over two weeks, pressure to avoid lapsed funding — which could disrupt ongoing projects around the country — is working against lawmakers who'd rather see a long-term deal.  

Past highway bills have fallen victim to bitter disputes between the parties over offsets and funding mechanisms, as well as fundamental disagreements over the role the federal government should play in state transportation projects.  

Boehner said at his weekly news conference Thursday he'd prefer a five-year fix, but "my preference is whatever we can get agreement on." He also nodded to the challenges inherent in identifying that long-term bill, "as you're well aware."  

In addition to Welch, co-signers include Democrats John Carney of Delaware, Kathleen Rice of New York, Dan Kildee of Michigan, Robert C. Scott of Virginia, David Scott of Georgia and Juan C. Vargas of California. Republicans include James B. Renacci of Ohio, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin and Mark Amodei of Nevada.  

Here's the letter, obtained early by CQ Roll Call:

Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, In the very near future, the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent and our nation will again be left without a long-term transportation plan.  Congress appears poised to enact yet another short-term patch to deal with our nation’s infrastructure needs. Enough is enough.  America cannot afford to have Congress kick the can down the road while our roads and bridges continue to crumble and workers remain idle. Going forward, we will only support a bill that adequately funds America’s pressing infrastructure needs for the next several years.  We will work with you to pass a long-term, sustainably funded, reauthorization bill.  We will vote against another short-term extension. America needs a stable Highway Trust Fund.  It is the job of Congress to provide it.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report. Related: Hoyer Slams GOP for Lack of Highway Trust Fund Progress House GOP Scores Short Highway Trust Fund Extension The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.