Hopes that that the Congress would pass S. 1647, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE Act), a six-year, $478 billion transportation funding reauthorization bill before the August recess have, like so many times before, come to naught. Instead we get a three month extension of the current transportation funding and authorization law, MAP-21, that will provide $8 billion to allow current project funding and implementation to continue.
The three-month extension, H.R. 3236, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act, passed out of the House on Wednesday by a vote of 385-34. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, committed to take up the short term funding extension in the Senate before the recess and to continue debate on its long term version of a reauthorization bill with the goal to have a bicameral conference in September to resolve issues. The Senate acted on Thursday afternoon, passing the extension by a vote of 91-4.
In addition to the $8 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund — the same amount that had been in the previous five-month extension — the short-term bill also includes more than $3 billion in emergency funding to prevent a shortfall that may have forced several U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to shutter temporarily.
The three month extension was necessary to avoid expiration of MAP-21, scheduled to expire unless extended or replaced by this Friday. The DRIVE Act as proposed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee contains an amendment that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, whose charter was allowed to expire at the end of June. However House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. has expressed the view that a DRIVE Act bill with such a provision would be DOA in the House.
Funding the DRIVE Act remains an open issue. Current federal gas tax revenues generate about $35 billion a year for the Trust Fund, about $10 billion a year shy of the amount needed to fund the long term bill. Among options being considered is a package of offsets totaling $47 billion or so that would augment the fund for at least three years. Some of the proposed offsets, such as a proposal to sell off 100 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, have already met with opposition, however.
The Senate, prior to voting on the extension bill, also approved its version of the DRIVE Act bill on Thursday by a vote of 65-34. The House is expected to craft its own version of the long term bill after the recess, which will be harmonized, we hope, with the Senate’s version through the conference process.