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Short-term highway extension may be way out for Congress

House to vote Wednesday on 3-month bill

Crews work to remove the remains of the 70th Street on ramp traffic lanes along Interstate 94 Wednesday, July 1 in Milwaukee. The work is part of the Zoo Interchange project and will keep the on ramp close through late summer for reconstruction. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Crews remove the remains of the 70th Street on-ramp along Interstate 94 on July 1 in Milwaukee. Congress is fast approaching a Friday deadline for a cut-off of highway aid to states. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. House Republicans announced plans Tuesday for a quick vote on a three-month highway spending extension, as Congress stared down a deadline to act or see states lose money for road projects during the summer driving season.

The leadership-driven plan would have the House vote on the legislation Wednesday, and then leave town for a five-week summer recess. The Senate would follow suit.

The approach amounts to an admission of failure to come up with a longer-term bill despite claims from all sides that that is the goal. And it kicks the issue into what is shaping up as a messy fall on Capitol Hill, with deadlines on President Barack Obama’s Iran deal and funding to keep the government open, among other thorny issues.

“I want a long-term highway bill that’s fully paid for. And that’s been the goal all year. It continues to be the goal,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “We’ve been trying to do this for four years. It’s time to get it across the finish line.”

The decision comes after the House and Senate clashed on dueling versions of the highway legislation. The House was pushing a five-month extension that could allow time to craft a much longer-term bill paid for with a tax reform deal sought by leaders of both parties. The Senate embraced a six-year bill that is expected to pass in the next couple days, though only three of those years are paid for.

But neither chamber would accept the other’s approach, leaving the short-term extension as the only way out.

“It’s frustrating, but the only thing worse than a short-term extension would be to allow funding to run out, so it’s the best we can do right now,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.

Said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.: “It’s going to be a very vigorous fall.”

Authority for federal highway aid payments to states will expire Friday at midnight without action. At the same time, if Congress doesn’t act before then the balance in the federal Highway Trust Fund is forecast to drop below a minimum cushion of $4 billion that’s necessary to keep aid flowing smoothly to states.

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