Once again, the U.S. House of Representatives has kicked the can down the road on highway funding. Despite a presidential veto threat, the Republican legislation extended transportation funding through September -- the 10th such extension -- and mandates construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
All but 14 Republicans, along with 70 Democrats, voted 293-197 for the legislation. It's nowhere near Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) earlier five-year, $260 billion package. Congress last month passed a 90-day extension
before it left for a two-week Easter recess, with the Senate only reluctantly passing the House extension. Boehner had hoped to use the break to win more support for the five-year bill, but apparently he did not succeed.
However, the short-term highway bill (nicknamed the "drill-and-drive" extension) is expected to lead to a House-Senate conference on a longer-term extension.
The Senate last month, in an unusual display of bipartisanship, passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, which many in the transportation industry praised. There was pressure on the Hill for the House to simply adopt the Senate bill. However, the House still wants the five-year term and remains wedded to the idea of supplementing Highway Trust Fund revenues by taxing expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and offshore.
In a statement, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said the bill provides much-needed stability for the near future:
"It has always been AASHTO's goal to seek a well funded, long-term transportation bill, which includes essential policy reforms," said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "However, the top priority is to ensure stability in the Federal-aid Highway and Transit programs for the immediate future. We support moving swiftly to conference and the enactment of a bill mutually agreed to by the House and Senate."