After overcoming several procedural obstacles this week, the Senate this morning voted 70 to 28 to pass the “Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment” (HIRE) Act, which among other things extends authorization of the federal surface transportation programs through the end of the calendar year and strengthens the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) with $19.5 billion in foregone interest.
Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) spoke on the floor today in opposition to further action on the legislation, criticizing the bill’s interest transfer into the HTF. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke in supports of the legislation, commending its infrastructure investments. A number of Republicans who voted Monday to continue their filibuster of the bill supported today’s vote on final passage.
The next step for the legislation, however, is very unclear. While the House and Senate surface transportation extensions include several differences with respect to the distribution of discretionary funds, the biggest obstacle facing the HIRE Act is that it violates House requirements against adding to the federal deficit. Although the budgetary impact is primarily from the non-transportation parts of the bill, the House Democratic Leadership must decide how to move forward. The fiscal conservative wing of the House Democratic Caucus has consistently opposed adding to the deficit. As such, it is unclear how the chamber will now proceed, particularly given the current highway/transit authorization expires February 28.
ARTBA is continuing to urge all members of Congress to finalize a surface transportation extension that stabilizes the HTF as soon as possible.
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