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House and Senate Standoff Over Future of Highway Bill

House and Senate Standoff Over Future of Highway Bill

As reported previously (see March 14th update), the Senate has passed their version of a highway bill. The bill is two years in duration and is set at $109 billion. The bill contains a number of changes and provisions supported by CVSA and is considered a step forward for critical CMV safety (see CVSA press release on S.1813).

Meanwhile the 5-year, $260 billion bill, H.R.7, remains stalled in the House. As House leadership works to make revisions to H.R.7 that will yield the 218 votes necessary for passage, expiration of the current program looms.

The House and Senate have until 11:59 p.m. on March 31st to come to some sort of an agreement on the highway bill. Senators and House Democrats are encouraging the House to take up and pass H.R.14, which is identical to the bill that passed the Senate. This would provide for a very quick conference. Meanwhile, House Republicans have announced their preference for a three-month extension, which would allow them more time to secure support for the longer-term bill.

The three-month, ‘clean’ extension is expected to pass the House next week. The bill contains a simple extension of the existing program, with no policy changes.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to recess for the first two weeks of April. The House is expected to pass the three-month extension and then adjourn next week, leaving the Senate with two options: (1) stand their ground and allow the highway programs to expire OR (2) pass the extension as well before adjourning. Neither is very appealing to the Senate leadership.

The next six or seven days will be filled with a lot of political grandstanding and back and forth between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. However, it’s expected that the Senate will pass the extension, once faced with the decision. Senate leaders are likely not willing to allow the highway programs to expire.

Assuming this happens, work will continue during the recess to find a bill that 218 Members of the House will support. Once the House and Senate are back, they’ll need to work quickly, as there limited days where both chambers are in session before the three months are up and there remains a great deal of work to do, especially if the House intends to offer a longer term bill.