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AASHTO Journal

House Seen Moving on Highway Bill as Deadline Nears; Funding Options Unclear

​The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is widely expected to approve its version of a highway/transit/rail reauthorization measure later this month ahead of an Oct. 29 deadline for Highway Trust Fund programs to expire.

However, how the House would opt to fund the measure was unclear, after House-Senate negotiators said talks had stalled over using some form of repatriation of overseas corporate profits to pay for a robust infrastructure investment program.

Various news reports said T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., was moving ahead with the policy aspects of a reauthorization after months of T&I waiting to hear about possible funding levels from the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan.

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Ryan, R-Wis., had been in bipartisan talks with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to craft an international tax reform that would produce a tax windfall of repatriated profits from overseas, and use that revenue to pay for a long-term surface transportation bill.

But Schumer – a member of the Democratic leadership who is generally expected to follow Sen. Harry Reid as the party leader in that body – and other Democratic senators reportedly wanted a higher level of long-term infrastructure spending than the GOP-controlled House could accept.

So Ryan aides said the Ways and Means chairman told Shuster to draft a transportation bill without counting on funds from an international tax overhaul.

Roll Call newspaper reported Oct. 6 Schumer said of his talks with Republican lawmakers about international tax law changes that "we need a robust highway increase to justify the whole endeavor. . . Right now, I'm not optimistic."

Schumer continued: "The alternative is a shorter-term highway bill such as the Senate has passed. Is it as good? No. It's only three years. That's not a way to run a highway system. The increases are much too small given the needs of our infrastructure and given the needs for jobs in America, but it's better than nothing."

If the House passes its version of a surface transportation bill this month, House and Senate negotiators would still need to work out differences between their measures in a conference committee, a process that could take weeks this fall. That would mean Congress would still need to pass a short-term extension to keep the trust fund's highway and transit funds flowing.

All of that represented a significant change from a week earlier when Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was then expected to become the next speaker after John Boehner retires, said the House would pass a highway bill in October that would probably use revenue from international tax reform.

But in a fast-changing situation, McCarthy on Oct. 8 withdrew from consideration to be the next speaker, and Boehner promptly postponed that day's scheduled GOP vote to nominate a speaker.

Boehner had planned to retire as Speaker and give up his House seat on Oct. 30, but said he would stay on until a new speaker could be chosen.

It was not clear at press time when the House would choose the next Speaker, and the uncertainty around that position could throw the anticipated schedule for moving a bill into disarray. 

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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