The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects on Thursday after a weeklong vote-a-rama and an intense debate about federal gas taxes, according to The Hill.
The measure also includes a reauthorization of the controversial Export-Import Bank's charter, which has been held up in Congress since it expired in June. The extension, which was included in the Senate's highway bill and left unchanged by the House, reauthorizes the bank's expired charter until 2019.
The House voted to approve the bill in a 363-64 vote. It calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years.
The measure must now be conferenced with a separate Senate measure on highways.
The Senate bill also authorizes six years of funding, but only pays for three years. However, the Senate bill includes no trigger requiring that Congress find a way to pay for the final three years.
Congress faces a Nov. 20 deadline to complete work on a conference report and prevent a gap in highway funding.
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Editors Insight: This is a positive development for the transportation funding bill, a measure that is very critical to the food and beverage supply chain, but the two chambers of Congress have to resolve differences over funding before a final bill can be signed into law. The nation’s infrastructure is in serious need of repair. All industries that rely on transportation pay for poor infrastructure in higher vehicle repair costs and less-than-reliable deliveries.
Disagreement on how best to pay for the bill has forced short-term bills, such as one the Senate announced at the end of October, to pay for transportation upgrades.
The Highway Trust Fund has been running a shortfall since 2008 because the fuel taxes that finance it have not kept pace with inflation, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The House Rules Committee has refused to allow consideration of higher gasoline taxes to support the fund.
The American Trucking Associations has supported fuel tax as the primary revenue source for highway improvements.
Food and transportation industry organizations need to continue to pressure lawmakers to see that the necessary funds are forthcoming. Trade organizations should consider enlisting their members’ support for a grass roots political movement if Congress fails to approve the necessary funding for The Highway Trust Fund, as it is critical to the food and beverage industry’s future. 11-6-15 By Elliot Maras