Business groups break with House GOP on highway trust fund fix

Motorists on I-20 follow snow plow trucks near Highway 6 near Lexington, S.C., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Motorists on I-20 follow snow plow trucks near Highway 6 near Lexington, S.C., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Tim Dominick / MCT

McClatchy Washington Bureau

As a House of Representatives committee approved a plan Thursday to patch the highway trust fund through next May, a coalition of business groups asked lawmakers to pass a long-term fix by year’s end.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Trucking Associations and the AAA, while not explicitly opposing the short-term solution favored by House Republicans, echoed what Senate Democrats have said in recent days about pushing the issue into next year.

“Renewing the debate next year under a new Congress would start us over at square one, making it nearly impossible to secure long-term transportation funding anytime soon,” said Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Transportation projects that the highway fund will become insolvent next month. Last week, Secretary Anthony Foxx said that unless Congress agrees on a short-term fix by Aug. 1, states can expect to see an average 28 percent drop in federal payments for their highway construction projects.

According to Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA, construction season is in full swing.

“This is a time of year when funding is needed,” he said.

The $11 billion stopgap that Ways and Means approved on a voice vote Thursday would shore up the highway fund through May 15, 2015, and would be paid for by various offsets that Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who chairs the committee, said both parties have supported in the past.

“The House and Senate can easily pass this legislation,” he said in a statement.

Camp touted his committee’s bipartisan approval of the plan. However, an effort by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, to make the bill’s expiration date Jan. 1, failed on a party-line vote.

A day before the Ways and Means vote, leading Senate Democrats pushed for a long-term solution by year’s end.

“Anything less than that is a disaster,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Boxer’s committee last month approved a six-year bill. At a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, she and Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who serves on Boxer’s committee as well as the Finance Committee, pummeled the House plan.

“It’s our responsibility,” Carper said. “It’s not the responsibility of the next Congress.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who leads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, defended the House plan Thursday.

Shuster, who co-sponsored the bill, said it would give states “certainty and stability” while giving Congress more time to achieve a long-term funding solution.

“A shorter extension would guarantee a manufactured crisis in December when some might be inclined to play politics with these issues,” he said in a statement.

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