WASHINGTON – Congress delayed releasing its 2018 omnibus spending bill on Tuesday with a deadlock over funding for the proposed Gateway Tunnel project among the thorny issues still unresolved.
Meanwhile, legislation to provide a streamlined mechanism for states and local governments to collect sales tax from e-commerce transactions appeared unlikely to make it into the must-pass bill, which is needed by the end of March 23 to avert a government shutdown.
President Trump has threatened to veto the omnibus if it contains a $900 million appropriation for Gateway that the House approved in September as part of an appropriations bill for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments.
“The Republicans need to convince their president to get over his objections,” said a spokesman for Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Gateway, which would connect New Jersey to Manhattan through a rail tunnel, is strongly supported by the committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose district in Northern New Jersey includes residents who commute to Manhattan on the N.J. Transit PATH trains that travel under the Hudson River.
Gateway has bipartisan support among New Jersey and New York lawmakers, who beat back an amendment to strip it out of the House appropriations bill for DOT during a September floor vote of 260-159.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., repeated his support for Gateway Tuesday but declined to discuss Trump’s opposition. “I’m not going to get into a back and forth with the president,” Schumer said. “This is a needed project and I hope Congress rises to the occasion.”
Schumer labeled Gateway as "probably one of the most needed public works projects" for "the whole eastern corridor from Maine to Virginia with 25% of the nation’s population.”
“Because if the tunnels fail, we’ll have not just a recession in the Northeast, but the rest of the country,” he said.
House and Senate lawmakers last month agreed to new spending caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, paving the way for passage of a long-delayed 2018 omnibus spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Work on the 2019 spending bill has already started even as lawmakers face a deadline midnight Friday to avoid a government shutdown because work on fiscal 2018 remains incomplete.
“We anticipate the House filing later today, which will give the Senate plenty of time to take a look and see what’s in it,” Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters after a close-door luncheon attended by GOP senators.
“Negotiations continue among the four leaders,” Schumer told reporters shortly after McConnell spoke. “A few sticking points remain. But we are very close to signing off on legislation that both houses will be able to take up and pass by the end of the week. Not everyone is going to be happy. That’s the nature of a compromise.”
Opponents of Gateway have labeled the $900 million as an “earmark,” but the project was listed in a five-year transportation authorization bill approved by Congress in 2015.
The two-year budget agreement increases infrastructure spending by $10 billion in 2018 and another $10 billion in 2019.