The House and Senate have passed the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (H.R. 4281), a three-month extension of the surface transportation programs. The spending authority for Highway Trust Fund programs would have expired March 31 without the extension, potentially halting road and transit projects throughout the country. Congress has had difficulty agreeing to a longer term extension of the programs.
On Thursday, the Senate voted down two different transportation and infrastructure proposals. The Democratic plan (S. 1769) would have developed a new national infrastructure bank and provided additional funding for transportation projects. It was defeated 51-49. The alternative bill (S. 1786) was a two year extension of the highway and transit programs and it would repeal a number of environmental protection regulations and funding for pedestrian and bike pathways among other proposals. The vote on S. 1769 was part of Majority Leader Reid’s plan to bring individual pieces of President Obama’s jobs proposals to the floor for consideration.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is planning to mark up a 2 year reauthorization of the highway and transit bill despite the $12 billion gap between the $109 billion cost of the bill and the money the Highway Trust Fund is projected to take in through existing fuel taxes. Generally, highway and transit bills have a longer authorization period and in the past were bipartisan bills. The lack of agreement on how to fund the bill has held up consideration of more comprehensive bills. The Senate Finance Committee must still find a funding mechanism for the bill to advance.