The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to extend federal highway aid for four months to Jan. 31 at current spending levels.
The bill, which will be sent to the full Senate, gives legislators time to resolve differences between widely differing House and Senate plans for a longer-term transportation bill.
The committee’s leaders emphasized that this was an unusual display of bipartisanship in the current contentious political climate.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., noting it wasn’t easy to get an agreement, said, “I hope this sends message to people that we can work together.”
Ranking minority member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. said, “Passing this extension is absolutely essential — it’s a no-brainer.”
The extension does not include Department of Transportation spending on transit programs or the federal government’s authority to collect its 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which are the jurisdiction of Senate Banking and Senate Finance Committees, respectively.
House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., would not comment on the bill. His spokesman released a statement Thursday that said, “The chairman will consult with leadership and others on details of an extension that he will support. Those details have not yet been determined.”
The extension bill pending in the Senate would cost $43 billion. House leaders would likely prefer their plan use only what’s available from the highway trust fund, which is about $27 billion.
The committee members were united in insisting on a “clean” extension, without any controversial policy changes. Inhofe decided not to add a proposal popular with Republicans, including those in the House, to eliminate federal aid for bike and pedestrian projects.
“We need to get this extension and when the House starts working on this, that precedent of a clean extension is probably going to be important,” Inhofe said.
Meanwhile, Mica said he will soon propose an extension to Federal Aviation Administration legislation that expires Sept. 16.
Disagreements over the previous extension led to a stalemate and a partial shutdown of the FAA earlier this year.
Once source says how that proceeds will be a harbinger of how much conflict to expect on the highway extension bill.