Spending bill would extend highway law by a year

The stopgap measure would allow federal spending on highways and transit to continue past Sept. 30, but the bill could meet resistance in the Senate

Peter DeFazio, Sam Graves are posing for a picture
Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., left, and ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:34pm

The continuing resolution introduced by House Democrats Monday includes a one-year extension of the surface transportation law, a provision that would put to rest the debate over what Congress would do about funding highways and transit after the current law expires Sept. 30.

The spending bill, introduced midmorning, also includes a $10.4 billion general revenue transfer to the highway accounts in the Highway Trust Fund and a $3.2 billion transfer to the Mass Transit Account, as well as a $14 billion transfer to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

The House bill did not receive a warm welcome from Republicans who control the Senate, making its viability uncertain.

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The extension of the surface transportation law comes as Congress deals with a number of transportation-related Sept. 30 deadlines. The date is also when the $25 billion in Payroll Support Program for passenger airlines expires. That aid was included in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief law that passed in March. Airlines and unions continue to argue for an extension of that funding through March 2021, but Congress remains at an impasse on future COVID-19 assistance packages.

Until Monday, Congress was also far apart on the highway bill as well, though lawmakers were increasingly signaling a willingness to extend current law as Sept. 30 approached.

Previous legislation

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last year unanimously approved a $287 billion, five-year surface transportation bill, but the full Senate has not yet taken up the measure.

The House, meanwhile, passed a five-year, $494 billion bill on July 20, but without Republican support. 

“While we had hoped to reach an agreement between the House and the Senate this year on a modern, multi-year surface transportation bill that moves our country forward, the single most important factor right now is providing certainty to states and local governments that are under the strain of both the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore. 

He vowed to work on a “long-term, transformational bill that significantly boosts investment in our surface transportation network and moves our transportation systems into the 21st century.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., said the extension would provide “immediate, desperately needed certainty to state DOTs and transportation and construction industry workers across the country.” 

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, did not immediately weigh in on the House proposal, but earlier this month a spokeswoman indicated Barrasso was open to a yearlong extension, saying the senator “believes it is critical” for the measure to neither expire nor be replaced with a month-to-month extension.