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Senate sends stop-gap highway funding bill to Biden’s desk after House infrastructure drama

The Senate passed a bill to extend funding for the Highway Trust Fund on Saturday after House Democrats failed to come together to pass a sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill due to partisan infighting. 

Roughly 3,700 Department of Transportation employees are expected to be taken off temporary furlough shortly after President Biden signs the stop-gap measure. 

The 30-day extension passed the lower chamber in a 365-51 vote on Friday, but was blocked by Republicans from passing on Friday night. 

The Highway Trust Fund’s funding had expired on Thursday at midnight, with Congress having to act swiftly to avert long-term problems in funding highway and transit construction programs.

Congress is only authorized to extend transportation funding for a maximum of 30 days without passing additional funding for the DOT. 

President Biden said he would like to see both the Highway Trust Fund bill and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill pass.
Chris Kleponis/POOL/CNP/startraksphoto.com

Top Democrats in the House were looking to have the Senate-passed bipartisan plan passed ahead of the expiration of last fiscal year’s highway funding. But progressive lawmakers vowed to tank the bill until a larger social spending bill to address some of the Biden Administration’s biggest priorities including climate change and the expansion of social safety net programs. 

The turmoil over whether the bill would pass prompted a Capitol Hill visit from President Biden on Friday, who did not provide a timeline to members, saying instead he would like to see both pieces of legislation pass. 

Moderates fumed over Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opting not to put the bipartisan bill on the floor after being promised that it would be considered before the end of the month. 

Highway construction.
Roughly 3,700 Department of Transportation employees are expected to be taken off temporary furlough shortly after President Biden signs the stop-gap measure. 
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

 Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said Pelosi had “breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people to hold a vote and to pass the once-in-a-century bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

The failure to pass the bipartisan bill sparked backlash from outside groups, who argued Congress failed to act on a pressing matter. 

“Yesterday’s inaction on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act isn’t just disappointing—it lapses our highway, transit, and highway safety programs and halts work on vital transportation infrastructure around the country, which is detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities,” said Jim Tymon, The American Association of State Highway and Transportation executive director, said in a statement. 

Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer said Speaker Nancy Pelosi had “breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people” to vote on and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“We are dealing with very real repercussions. Thousands of federal employees at USDOT are being furloughed and $50 billion of federal surface transportation programs supported by the Highway Trust Fund are being suspended. This is unacceptable.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a new deadline for the House to act on the bipartisan measure as Democrats look for a path forward on both bills. 

“It’s about time! There is an October 31st Surface Transportation Authorization deadline, after last night’s passage of a critical 30-day extension,” she said in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Saturday. “We must pass BIF well before then – the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a new deadline for the House to act on the bipartisan measure as Democrats look for a path forward on both bills.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

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