Beating Deadline, Congress Approves Transportation Bill

By: - September 16, 2011 12:00 am

The U.S. Senate has followed the House of Representatives and approved a six-month extension of federal transportation funding, giving states some breathing room and avoiding a shutdown of infrastructure projects around the nation.

President Obama and many state leaders had been urging Congress for weeks not to let transportation funding expire, warning that it would lead to more job losses at exactly the wrong time. The White House released a state-by-state assessment estimating that hundreds of thousands of layoffs would result, including more than 75,000 in California alone.

Despite their clashes on other legislation, Senate Democrats and Republicans on Thursday (September 15) agreed to keep transportation dollars flowing through March 2012 as part of a bill that also avoids a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration at the end of this week.

As Stateline noted in August , short-term federal infrastructure funding has been the norm since 2009, the last time Congress agreed to a major rewrite of comprehensive transportation law. Congress has passed seven different temporary funding extensions since then, unable to find agreement on the best way to fund infrastructure on a long-term basis. The differences of opinion have broadened considerably since Republicans took over the House, with many of them calling for far less federal spending on transportation while Democrats who control the Senate have refused to go along.

In approving the temporary transportation bill Thursday, the Senate omitted language sought by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma that would have allowed states to opt out of a requirement that some federal money be used for bike paths, Bloomberg reports . Coburn had threatened to stall the larger bill unless his provision was included, but he agreed to hold off on the condition that his language be included in a separate, longer-term transportation bill that will be debated later.

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