WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2015 - On Monday, the House passed an extension of highway funding through Dec. 4, which could potentially be the last short-term extension before a multiyear bill is sent to the president’s desk.
With the Thanksgiving holiday thrown in, the extension (H.R. 3996), which still needs Senate approval, would give the two chambers basically one additional workweek to agree on a long-term bill. On Tuesday, Senate Commerce Committee chair John Thune, R-S.D., said the chamber would likely pass the extension and figured the additional days would give conferees enough time to produce a long-term bill. Two transportation experts who spoke with Agri-Pulse last week agreed that the most important thing that can come out of highway bill talks is long-term certainty.
“When it comes to transportation, I’d rather the federal government be predictably good than sporadically great,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told Agri-Pulse. National Grain and Feed Association President Randy Gordon said once the two chambers come together they could make quick work in producing a bill.
“I don’t think there’s much of an appetite in either the House or Senate to continue to have these short-term extensions,” he said. “There’s a lot of commonality on the two bills.”
Conferees from the two chambers, who are scheduled to hold their first meeting this morning, need to address the differences between the two bills, primarily with regards to funding. When the House passed its long-term version of the bill Nov. 5, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the legislation “doesn’t provide the level of investment needed” for proper repairs and new construction and that Congress needed to do “the right thing” and come up with more revenue.
Gordon told Agri-Pulse that amid all the discussions on government spending, highway funding is “a legitimate function of government.” Steenhoek said he hopes to see the long-term solution that has been in the works for so long come to fruition before the end of the year.
“The concern is that if they delay too much longer, they’re going to find themselves in an election year,” Steenhoek said. “We all know that in Congress, very little happens in odd-numbered years, but even less happens in even-numbered years, particularly if it’s a presidential election year, so this is something that needs to be resolved and it needs to be resolved quickly.”
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