Senate Democratic leaders unveiled a second economic stimulus package yesterday that would provide $56.2 billion in federal funding, including large infusions of cash to finance highway infrastructure and airport construction, and bond-related state revolving funds for wastewater projects.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters yesterday that she expects the stimulus measure to be considered today in the House. If approved, it would go to the Senate for a vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., released a joint statement yesterday with the details of the economic recovery package.
"There are consequences for failing to invest in America, and the Bush administration has fiddled while Rome has burned," Byrd said. "The package we are outlining today addresses the rise in unemployment and high food and energy costs, and funds infrastructure repairs that will create jobs, while also aiding small businesses and rural communities."
The bill includes $8 billion for highway investments, piggybacking on the $8 billion highway trust fund patch that was recently enacted in time to avoid a shutdown of the federal-state highway funding system. The stimulus package also would provide public transit $2 billion and Amtrak $350 million.
In addition, it includes $400 million for capital improvements to airports. These funds would come as Congress passed a six-month FAA extension earlier this week that will provide the Airport Improvement Program with $1.95 billion for grants that are sometimes used to back tax-exempt bonds for capital projects but more often as a supplement to bond proceeds or state or local grants.
Of the $7.5 billion in the package for energy and environmental programs, $600 million would go to the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides grants to states to make low-cost loans for local wastewater infrastructure projects.
"This money brings us almost back to where we were a number of years ago," said Rick Farrell, executive director of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities. He said the Bush administration has cut the program from about $1.35 billion in 2003, to under $600 million last year. The stimulus package would double the funding that the program received in fiscal 2008.
Twenty-seven states use these revolving funds to back municipal bonds, Farrell said. The cuts have "limited states' availability to loan money out, and to go out into the bond market more," he said.
Projects that have been backlogged can move ahead if the funding passes in the stimulus package, he said. Some states have been waiting on as much as $500 million or more worth of projects.
The stimulus bill also would extend unemployment benefits, increase funding for low-income programs such as food stamps, and invest in public housing and mortgage fraud investigation.
Lawmakers have been working against a looming deadline of Friday, which is the target adjournment date for Congress. The current fiscal year ends on Tuesday.
The Senate was expected to vote yesterday on legislation to keep the federal government funded until March 6, or until appropriations bills pass for fiscal year 2009, whichever comes first. Programs will for the most part be funded at fiscal 2008 levels.
The continuing resolution won a clear majority of votes Wednesday in the House, where the measure had been introduced late Tuesday night without an extension of the offshore drilling moratorium, a decision that was praised by many Republican members.
The measure includes $6.5 billion in community development block grants to help states impacted by severe storms in the Midwest, hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and other major disasters. The grants could be used in conjunction with municipal bonds to pay for housing, infrastructure and other development projects. Almost $3.6 billion in CDBGs were allocated last year to states and localities.
The resolution also provides $22.9 billion in disaster relief, $487.7 billion in defense funding, $40 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, and $72.9 billion for military construction and veterans. The package contains low-income energy assistance and auto industry loans as well.