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This evening, the House of Representatives approved HR 2353, a bill to extend the MAP-21 highway and transit authorization through July 31, 2015. The vote was 387 to 35. A number of members had threatened to vote against the bill as a protest of how Congress has been handling (or mishandling) the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solvency crisis and in opposition to the continued use of short-term extensions.
The Senate is expected to vote to approve a similar extension sometime Wednesday or Thursday.
Congress was forced to deal with the MAP-21 extension issue this week since they will be on recess next week when MAP-21 officially expires on May 31. The options were either a mini-extension through the end of July which would not require any additional money since the HTF is estimated to remain solvent into August or a longer-term extension through the end of September or December 31. Extending the bill through the end of the calendar year would require identifying an additional $10B in revenues or program cuts which Congress appeared to be unable or reluctant to do.
While a July deadline helps to keep the pressure on Congress to find a long-term funding solution, the chances of solving the HTF crisis within the next two months is very unlikely. Most likely, come July, Congress will once again have to extend the program. The primary hope for finding sufficient revenues to authorize a six-year program is as part of a comprehensive tax reform package. However, as of right now, it seems unlikely Congress will be able to pass such a controversial and complex bill this fall and potentially less likely in 2016, a presidential election year.