House presents transportation bill but no new funding

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 16, 2015 3:36 PM

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan six-year transportation bill on Friday that would allow spending for roads and bridges to keep pace with inflation but provide no new money for infrastructure modernization.

Congressional aides described the 543-page legislation as a $325 billion authorization bill but acknowledged that it contained no mechanism for paying for the first three years of spending and would require an additional act of Congress to release money for the last three years.

The Senate approved a $350-billion, six-year measure in July, which included funding for only the first three years.

But as lawmakers prepared to wrestle with the differences between the bills, aides said Congress was likely to pass another short-term extension first to keep transportation funds flowing after the current three-month period expires on Oct. 29.

The Obama administration has proposed its own $480 billion six-year transportation plan to Congress, saying infrastructure needs a massive infusion of new money to cope with the growing population and new technology in the sector.

The new bill was introduced by a group of lawmakers led by House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, and the panel's most senior Democrat, Oregon's Peter DeFazio. An administration official said the U.S. Transportation Department was reviewing the measure.

Aides said the committee will mark up the legislation next week for a floor vote that could come by Oct. 29.

But the measure, which keeps annual highway funding at about $50 billion, would not move forward until the House Ways and Means Committee produces a plan to meet $37 billion in funding needs not covered by receipts from the federal gas tax and other transportation user fees.

A spokesman for the committee, chaired by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, declined to comment on efforts to craft a so-called "pay-for" measure, whereby lawmakers, who have been unable to agree on tax increases to fund transportation, are trying to cut spending in other areas to cover those costs.

But the committee's most senior Democrat said his party was willing to work with the Republicans to make a deal on funding.

"Funding for our nation's infrastructure is long overdue. Democrats stand ready to work with the Republicans on bipartisan offsets for a comprehensive, long-term highway bill," U.S. Representative Sander Levin of Michigan said.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)