Supporters garnered the necessary two-thirds support to push through the stop-gap measure intended to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The vote was 363 to 68.
The government estimates the account could run dry within several weeks without an emergency infusion of cash. The fund provides states with about $40 billion per year in transportation construction funding.
Trust fund disbursements are separate from the billions in economic stimulus money dedicated to states for transportation projects.
The Senate is expected to act on the temporary trust fund measure before the end of next week, and lawmakers plan to address a longer-term remedy after their August recess.
During the 40 minutes of House floor debate this afternoon, supporters argued the Highway Trust Fund needs additional funding immediately to prevent the payment slowdown to states, which could cause states to then curtail their road construction activity. Opponents contended the transfer is not paid for by any new revenue source and that Congress needs to stop bailing out the Highway Trust Fund. Congress sent the fund an additional $8 billion last September when a similar funding crisis developed due to lower revenue in the trust fund than had been projected as a result of Americans driving less during the economic recession and thus paying less in gasoline and diesel taxes as well as in heavy-truck taxes.
The House bill approved today contains no extension of authority for federal surface transportation programs, which is scheduled to lapse Sept. 30 at the end of this fiscal year. While House leaders have been pushing a full six-year authorization measure, the Obama administration and the Senate have favored a temporary extension of current authority for 18 months. Today’s House vote means Congress will have to face the authorization question in September after returning from the summer recess.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, said during today’s floor debate that he regrets Congress must take action to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. But the drop in vehicle miles traveled experienced over the past year and a half has left the trust fund short of its revenue projections, necessitating an infusion, he said. Oberstar’s six-year, $500 billion authorization measure has been approved by subcommittee but not been brought up before the full T&I Committee yet because there is no agreement with the House Ways and Means Committee on how to raise the extra revenue needed to pay for it.
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