With Congress having been consumed by the debt ceiling debate, the House and Senate began the August recess without having taken any steps towards reauthorizing transportation funding. Federal transportation funding expires on September 30, so action in both chambers in early September is quite likely. Earlier this month, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, held a meeting to outline a bipartisan plan for Senate action originally proposed in mid-July by Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK). As early as September 8, the Committee plans to mark-up a clean, four-month extension of transportation funding, while also marking up a second bill that would extend funding for two years at a cost of $109 billion.

This plan is at odds with the strategy put forward in the House, where Chairman Mica has been steadfast in pushing his own bill which would provide funding for six years at a cost of $230 billion. Mica’s bill would reduce transportation spending by about one-third from existing levels. Given the disparity between the proposals, it is almost certain that another short-term extension will be necessary as the House and Senate work to move their respective bills through committee and to the floor.

The Obama Administration has said passage of a highway bill would be a priority when Congress returns from August recess, while an earlier effort to create a National Infrastructure Bank has lost momentum under concerns that implementation of such a program would take years and therefore do little to aid the struggling economy. Should Congress be unable to extend funding by September 30, the current law authorizing highway and transit spending will expire and with it the gasoline tax that generates about $34 billion a year for infrastructure projects.