The House and Senate were hard at work Tuesday, trying to get something passed to get the U.S. Department of Transportation and its agencies back to work as soon as possible.
The DOT shutdown and employee furloughs began after midnight on Tuesday, March 2, triggered by the Senate’s failure to pass a routine funding extension this past Friday. Transportation programs have been surviving on a series of temporary extensions since September 2009.
But with the highway extension tacked on to another piece of legislation, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-KY, blocked a unanimous consent decree, saying he was against the lack of budget offsets in the bill. Long story short, the action created a battle of wills between the parties and the extension did not get passed.
The bill itself had other extensions in it besides a 30-day fix for the Highway Trust Fund.
- An extension of unemployment insurance through April 5. Without the extension, approximately 400,000 people stand to be cut off from benefits.
- A 31-day extension of subsidies for COBRA premiums;
- A delay in the reduction of a 21-percent Medicare reimbursement to doctors;
- Exceptions to therapy spending caps;
- A one-month extension of flood insurance programs;
- An additional $60 million in small-business loans; and
- An extension of satellite television laws that allow local signals to broadcast.
As previously reported, the bill would have authorized a 30-day extension to current Highway Trust Fund spending levels.
Highway user groups, including OOIDA and the American Highway Users Alliance, are urging Congress to pass a five- or six-year surface transportation authorization bill to fix the problem of having to deal with short-term extensions.
For the time being at least, Congress was poised this week to advance jobs legislation, HR2847, which would extend the Highway Trust Fund and other DOT functions through the end of 2010.
– By David Tanner, associate editor