WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2015 – In a landslide vote, the House of Representatives cleared a six-year highway bill Thursday morning, setting up a conference with the Senate over their different pieces of legislation.
More than 80 percent of House members voted in favor of the bill, which also addresses the Export-Import Bank, in a 363-64 decision. The bill is the first long-term transportation bill to pass the House in a decade, but the price tag of over $300 billion and questions about its funding still loom large. It will now go to a conference committee with the Senate, which passed is own six-year bill in July.
In a press conference after passage of the bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill “cuts waste, prioritizes good infrastructure, will help create good-paying jobs.” Ryan achieved passage of the bill in his first full week as speaker, accomplishing something no speaker before him has done since 2005.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said in a statement that the bill “gives our infrastructure and our economy a much needed shot in the arm.” Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, the panel’s ranking member, said current funding levels for the bill are low, but have the potential to increase.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide the level of investment needed to repair or rebuild our aging 1950s-era system of roads, bridges, and public transit systems,” he said. “It does, however, include a critical provision that would allow for automatic adjustments and increased infrastructure investment if more money flows into the Highway Trust Fund than currently projected.
“If Congress does the right thing and comes up with more revenue to deposit into the Highway Trust Fund, this mechanism will invest those funds in our surface transportation infrastructure, without any additional action by Congress. This is a step in the right direction.”
Passage of a long-term bill comes after more than 30 short-term extensions of highway funding. In a release, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue said certainty for infrastructure projects will be beneficial to the economy.
“This long-term approach to reauthorize funding for the nation’s federal transportation systems is a step forward in providing American businesses with the certainty they need,” he said. Donohue also pointed out that the House and Senate still need to work out the differences in their legislation, and urged them to work quickly. “We can’t afford to hit any potholes in the process to get it done.”'
Amendments related to trucking weight requirements were proposed, but were not included in the bill. One would have allowed for truck weights to be increased to 91,000 pounds so long as they have a sixth axle, and another would have increased weight limits for vehicles hauling livestock to 95,000 pounds. After both amendments were defeated, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association announced strong opposition to the bill.
An amendment from Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer that allows for a waiver of hazardous materials endorsements for drivers hauling 1,000 gallons or less of diesel fuel was approved Wednesday.
In a joint statement after House passage of the bill, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the panel’s ranking member, said the bill “enables us to move forward to conference so we can work out our differences and get this legislation to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving.”
Of the 64 votes in opposition to the measure, 58 were from Republicans. The current extension of highway funding expires Nov. 20, giving lawmakers two weeks to come to an agreement.
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