WASHINGTON – The Senate on Saturday voted to extend transportation funding programs by one month, a move that will grant leave to 3,700 Transportation Department employees who were on leave when the money ran out on Thursday. The House of Representatives approved the measure late Friday.
President Joe Biden signed the measure on Saturday.
The fund, which is designed to provide long-term stability for road and transportation projects, expired Thursday night as Democrats argued over whether to propose a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill amid a debate that would mark the future of trillion more included in social spending.
The House voted 365-51 to approve the extension. The Senate backed the move on Saturday that will end the vacation and keep the money flowing. It gave lawmakers time to continue trying to resolve the spending package impasse.
While an extension solves immediate problems, proponents of the $ 1 trillion Infrastructure Bill are suspicious of the prospect that Congress will opt for repeated short extensions – an approach lawmakers have taken in the past.
The immediate impact is limited, but the failure is “unacceptable,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The group called on Congress to pass long-term land transportation law.
“Although AASHTO appreciates the failure of federal highway, transit and highway safety programs caused by failure to pass the bipartisan infrastructure investment and jobs bill, short-term extensions are not an appropriate way to govern,” Tymon said in a statement on Saturday. “This particular extension does not include any new funding for government ministries of transportation until October 15, leaving them without the support of their federal partners for weeks while they continue the work of moving people and goods through our communities.”
Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said officials are already beginning to develop plans for the upcoming construction season and need reassurance that federal funds are available.
“It’s not free to just kick the can on the street,” Bradley told reporters this week.
The state transport authorities, which are reimbursed from the fund, were expected to be able to pay their bills for a few more weeks. The Ministry of Transport said in a statement that existing grants would continue to be paid.
The Governors Highway Safety Association said the mini-shutdown could impact safety programs at a time when road deaths and dangerous driving occur. In a tweet it called the failure “a direct impact of Congress missing the deadline to extend FAST.” [Fixing America’s Surface Transportation] Take action and continue the Highway Trust Fund operations. “
While the focus remained on passing the Infrastructure Bill, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been working with the House Transportation Committee this week on backup options to keep the Federal Highway Trust Fund running. An alternative proposal to continue it through December would have required a $ 5 billion bailout as the fund runs out of money.
Following the vote in the House of Representatives on Friday, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Chair of the Transport Committee said the expansion would protect thousands of Transport Department staff and keep important projects on schedule.
“Now we will continue our work to get the Build Back Better agenda into law, including a historic investment in American infrastructure,” he said in a statement.
West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement Saturday that she was “deeply disappointed” that the House of Representatives postponed a vote on the infrastructure package and found it to be a five-year-old Invoice for the renewed approval of land transport.
“The best way to continue these programs and provide long-term security to government departments of transportation and others was to have the House of Representatives pass the bipartisan infrastructure package. However, that didn’t happen, ”she said. “Another funding failure would have jeopardized future projects that are necessary to ensure the safety and efficiency of our roads and bridges.”
Most of the employees on leave were with the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In addition to construction, the trust fund also covers transit projects and road safety work, and the grants in these programs would also have been affected by an extended shutdown.
The trust fund last expired in 2010, but employees were quickly called back to work. The gas tax, which helps to fill the fund, has not yet expired.
Tony Romm of the Washington Post contributed to this report.