By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate early on Saturday passed a two-month spending extension for federal transportation projects that puts off a decision on long-term funding for road, bridge and rail transit projects until the height of the summer construction season.
The unanimous voice vote sends the measure to President Barack Obama for signing into law before current transportation spending authority expires on May 31.
The White House said Obama would sign the short-term fix if work continues towards a long-term bill.
Obama has requested a six-year, $478 billion transportation bill, and last week said he was in talks with congressional leaders and willing to look at all revenue sources to fund it.
"I don't have much progress to report, unfortunately, at this point," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said of the talks about a long-term plan.
The two-month extension resulted from lawmakers' inability to agree on funding for either a six-year bill, or even a much shorter extension through the end of 2015, which would cost about $11 billion.
Because it relies on the remaining money in the Highway Trust Fund, the short-term extension requires no offsetting savings, representing the easiest solution for Congress before it embarked Friday on a 10-day Memorial Day break.
It will avoid disruption to current construction sites, but sets up a new deadline in July, when the trust fund is due to run dry again.
Fed by fuel taxes that have not changed since 1993, the fund has experienced chronic shortfalls in recent years due to rising vehicle fuel economy, fewer miles driven and construction cost inflation. Lawmakers from both parties have ruled out a fuel tax increase despite support for that from trucking and industry groups.
The Obama administration has proposed capturing revenue by requiring U.S. corporations to bring home some $2 trillion profits held overseas at a lower, 14-percent tax rate. But some Republicans, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have said this would require a broader tax reform plan.
State transport officials and many lawmakers contend that a series of short-term funding patches may keep existing work going, but they do not provide enough long-term funding certainty to launch major new projects.
That may cloud the demand outlook for major construction materials, equipment and engineering suppliers such as Lafarge SA, Deere & Co, and Fluor Corp.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Eric Beech)