Obama inks highway extension; long-term bill still at issue

Sept. 19, 2011
President Barack Obama on Friday signed legislation that extends funding for federal highway projects as well as for the Federal Aviation Administration

President Barack Obama on Friday signed legislation that extends funding for federal highway projects as well as for the Federal Aviation Administration. The House passed the extension bill unanimously earlier in the week, with the Senate coming through on Thursday with a near-unanimous 92-6 vote. This latest extension extends taxes for funding highway spending through the end of March.

Passage by the Senate was held up, according to a news report posted by TheHill.com, by a “showdown” between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) over a ‘hold’ placed on the transportation bill by Coburn because of objections he had to it as well as by an unrelated emergency management measure.

The vote to approve the extension came only after Reid allowed a vote on amendments from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that TheHill.com reported “addressed Coburn's concerns about road-beautification provisions in the highway bill and the emergency management bill not being offset by cuts in other areas of federal spending.”

“It is a positive step for the country that the Congress has passed this historic combination of extensions, which is important for job creation and our nation’s infrastructure,” said U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “With the FAA bill delayed four and half years and a two-year delay on the highway measure, Congress must now act responsibly to enact long-term reauthorizations that will put Americans back to work and build our nation’s infrastructure.”

Mica called the legislation “a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to move forward,” but warned it must “not be just a temporary Band-aid for our important aviation, highway, rail and safety programs and for job creation. To build our nation’s infrastructure and put people to work, we need long-term authorizations of these programs.

The bill signed Friday by the President marks the eighth extension of the highway bill—which originally expired in 2009.

But prospects for any long-term highway reauthorization bill have been stymied by the key issue of how to pay for funding it. On Capitol Hill, Republicans want to limit such a bill to revenues produced by fuel taxes, while across the aisle, Democrats generally want more funding approved in general -between $500 and $600 billion over six years.

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