Ryan Holeywell is a staff writer at GOVERNING.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
House Republicans may start working on a short-term extension to the highway and transit bill and then send it to the Senate, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica said Wednesday.
The latest version of Mica's own legislation, a five-year, $260 billion highway and transit people "is on life support," he conceded. Support for it began to quickly erode when Republicans added a provision that would strip transit of its dedicated funding stream, creating division within their own ranks.
The legislation expires at the end of March. Unless Congress passes a new highway and transit bill or extends the current one -- which it's been doing for more than two years now -- work on transportation projects across the country could halt.
Mica, explaining the possible paths forward for the surface transportation bill, alluded to last year's debacle in which Congress ultimately allowed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) authorization to expire, resulting in a partial shutdown.
As the deadline to pass an FAA bill approached last summer, Mica introduced a short-term extension that the House passed. But it included a controversial prohibition that would make cuts to a program that subsidizes the cost of air travel at some small airports. Senate Democrats, who opposed the cut, rejected the House bill, allowing the extension to expire and the FAA to partially shut down. Eventually, Democrats passed the extension with those House-ordered cuts.
Mica, who spoke at a high-speed rail conference Wednesday morning, seemed to suggest the House may take a similar approach with the highway and transit extension.
"That's another option," Mica said. "It may not be a good one, but sometimes you have to take tough steps to move people off dead center here."
Still, the ultimate path forward is unclear. "We've got about half a dozen options I've discussed with our leadership staff, who will make the decision," Mica said.
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