Congress is moving closer again to the brink of a partial government shutdown as lawmakers failed to make progress Monday on a short-term extension of authority to run surface transportation programs and collect fuel taxes.
Republican leaders, including Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, are trying to move a measure to the floor extending existing funding levels and policy for three months, through the end of June. The current extension expires March 31. The Department of Transportation would be forced to turn off payments to states for road work, potentially putting thousands of construction workers out of work and delaying projects.
Mica offered the extension as an alternative to voting on a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill recently passed by the Senate.
But Republicans consider the Senate bill flawed because it pulls funding from some non-traditional accounts to make up for the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, doesn't go far enough cutting red tape and bureaucracy, and avoids the programmatic reforms made in Mica's five-year bill to focus the DOT on its core mission. Republicans say the Highway Trust Fund will quickly become insolvent under the Senate plan.
Democrats in the House on Monday continued to object to a vote on short-term extension.
Last summer, a dispute over aviation policies between the House and Senate led to a two-week shutdown of non-essential programs at the Federal Aviation Administration before an FAA extension was passed. Congress also came close to a government shutdown at the end of last year over the extension of payroll tax cuts and a year ago over a stopgap government spending plan. — Eric Kulisch