Federal Affairs update 2/14/2014
(Please see an update on federal activities regarding the California drought in “Top Stories”)
With a snowstorm set to hit the Washington capital area, lawmakers scrambled earlier this week to clear legislation (S 540) that would suspend the nation’s borrowing authority. Although the previous debt limit extension technically expired on February 7, the Treasury Department has used so-called “extraordinary measures” to temporarily stave off the need for another increase. According to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, those measures will be exhausted by February 27.
Given the impending deadline – and with both chambers of Congress scheduled to be in recess the week of February 17 – congressional leaders agreed to move the debt-limit bill to the top of the legislative priority list.
Incidentally, House GOP leaders agreed to shelve their attempt to extract certain concessions from their Democratic colleagues as part of the debt-ceiling legislation. Although Republicans had announced plans to attach several policy riders to the measure, including a provision on military pensions and another that would address Medicare payments to doctors, it quickly became apparent that there was not sufficient support for such an approach.
In the end, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) brought forward a “clean” debt limit increase that will suspend the nation’s borrowing authority until March 15, 2015. The bill, which cleared the House with the support of only 28 Republicans, subsequently passed the Senate on a 55-43 vote. President Barack Obama is expected to quickly sign the legislation into law.
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on Wednesday, February 12 entitled “MAP-21 Reauthorization: The Economic Importance of Maintaining Federal Investments in our Transportation Infrastructure.” The panel heard testimony from representatives of several national organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
For her part, the chairwoman of the EPW Committee, Senator Boxer, indicated her intention to mark up a five or six-year transportation reauthorization bill in April. The most difficult challenge facing Senator Boxer and other transportation authorizers will be identifying a new, sustainable source of revenue to finance future highway and transit investment.
According to new numbers released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a six-year surface transportation bill would require $100 billion in additional revenue just to maintain current transportation spending levels. In the near term, CBO projects that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) – which is supported by revenues from the federal gasoline tax – will run out of money starting in fiscal year 2015. CBO also has indicated that the HTF could run out of funding before the September 30 expiration of MAP-21.