Lawmakers in the House squeezed in one last bit of business before heading into the August recess: a three month extension of the highway funding bill.
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a three month highway bill that will keep critical federal funds flowing to states whose roads and bridges need repair.
The three month bill, while not ideal for the GOP or Democrats, gives leadership in the House and Senate time to forge a long term compromise that would push the issue past the 2016 election at least. Also, by punting ahead of the August recess, the House will add highway funding to a laundry list of must pass items in the fall.
The three month extension deal comes after a disagreement between the House and the Senate on how long the funding should last. The Senate wanted six years, the House had already passed a five month bill and said they had no time to review Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's highway bill.
To avoid a standoff, McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner agreed to punt for three months to give both chambers time to try and forge a compromise for a long term solution. The Senate is in for another week and Boehner had no plans to keep House members in town.
So the three month bill gives both leaders an out and gives Boehner space not to have to worry about accepting the Senate bill.
Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT IS IT?
Congress routinely appropriates federal money for states to use to repair roads, bridges, tunnels etc... For many states, the money is an extremely important source of income that stimulates jobs and helps keep vital transit arteries safe and in good working order.
HOW IS IT FUNDED?
Most of the funds come from the federal gas tax, which is 18 cents per gallon.
WHY IS CONGRESS ALWAYS SHORT OF MONEY FOR THE HIGHWAY BILL?
That gas tax has not been updated since 1993. Since 1993, cars get much better miles per gallon. The tax also hasn't been adjusted for inflation. This year the shortfall for the highway funds is $16 billion dollars.
In an interview with NBC News, Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx said there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the country thinks about funding transportation.
"We have Flinstones policies in a Jetsons environment," he said.
WHY DOESN'T CONGRESS RAISE THE GAS TAX SO THIS IS NO LONGER A PROBLEM?
Hahahaha! That would involve taking a tough vote that would be very problematic politically, Congress can't do that, silly.
SO WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO?
There are two diverging paths on this one.
Senate Plan--McConnell is moving forward a bipartisan plan constructed with California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer. It would cost $337 billion dollars, finds sources of funding from all over the government and would fix the problem for six years. It'll probably pass the Senate this week.
House Plan--Earlier this month, the House passed an $8 billion dollar, five month extension of the Highway Trust Fund in a bipartisan 312-119 vote. House leaders think that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin can negotiate a long term highway bill by Christmas that would be included in a large scale tax reform bill.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said the House will not vote on the Senate bill. That means the three month compromise hashed out by McConnell and Boehner is the way forward.
WILL THE FUNDS RUN OUT?
No. Although he doesn’t like it, President Barack Obama will be forced to accept the last minute bill three month compromise bill.