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ON THE ROAD AGAIN. With a day to spare, Congress approved legislation to replenish the Highway Trust Fund on July 31, ensuring payments to states would not be delayed by the Highway Trust Fund falling below its sustainable level on Aug. 1. What was expected to be a simple action turned rather dramatic, as the House and Senate pinged legislation back and forth. In dispute was the length of a funding “patch” and how it would be offset. The House originally agreed to extend the Highway Trust Fund until May 31, with the Senate preferring an extension until the lame-duck period in December. With time running short, the House preferred-version ultimately prevailed. Optimism with the accord reached by Congress was tempered in a statement by Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The good news is that Congress has avoided bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund. The bad news is that there is still no long-term certainty, and the latest band-aid expires right as the next construction season begins.” NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon
UNFINISHED BUSINESS—WHAT’S AHEAD? Although Congress has yet to pass the FY 2015 budget, it adjourned last week for the annual five-week August recess. With only 12 legislative days remaining before November’s mid-term election, federal lawmakers have a number of items still to address, if not before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, then at least by the end of the calendar year. The most pressing is passing a continuing resolution to avoid the debacle that occurred last year when the federal government shut down. Only nine times in the past 40 years has Congress failed to pass a budget, and five of those have been in the last five years. Although the House passed seven spending bills, the Senate was unable to pass any, so appropriators see a 12-bill continuing resolution as inevitable. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has hinted that Congress will likely approve legislation to keep the government operating at least until after the elections.
Other issues Congress must address this year include:
- Export-Import Bank, due to expire on Sept. 30, is an NCSL-supported reauthorization. The Ex-Im Bank provides lending authority and financing assistance to American businesses to help them succeed in the global market. The Senate is advocating a five-year renewal of the Ex-Im Bank, while the House is less certain on extending the financing instrument.
- Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which passed the Senate earlier this year, will expire on Dec. 31 unless it is reauthorized. It was enacted in 2001 to provide a federal “backstop” for insurance companies in the event of heavy losses, to ensure that property and casualty insurance for acts of terrorism remains both available and affordable. Members from both the House and Senate support an extension, but they haven’t yet been able to agree on its length.
- Internet Tax Freedom Act, set to expire on Nov. 1, appears likely to be extended until December, when it will be combined with the Marketplace Fairness Act.
- Human Trafficking will be discussed in the Senate as legislation is debated to strengthen criminal penalties on human traffickers and establish assistance programs for victims. The House has passed legislation that would aid state and local governments in developing appropriate services for victims, including a hotline to help them communicate with service providers.
- Tax Extenders, which expired at the end of 2013, may remain a thing of the past unless Congress can agree on a different fate for more than 50 of them. The House and Senate have different approaches to extending these tax provisions. The Senate approved a two-year extension for all of them, while the House preferred to analyze and vote on each tax provision individually. A final decision on their fate will need to be made early next year, in time for tax season.
As for the start of the 114th Congress, lawmakers will again be faced with a couple of fiscal and infrastructure “cliffs.” Lawmakers will need to address the nation’s debt limit, which is currently suspended until March 15. Unless Congress approves a long-term transportation bill, the Highway Trust Fund will likely need to be replenished at the end of May. And if history is any barometer, Congress may once again punt the FY 2015 budget into the new year during the lame-duck session in December. This is to say nothing of the budget battle that lies ahead next year, when sharper overall spending reductions via sequestration are scheduled to occur.
Capitol to Capitol is a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the premier bipartisan organization representing the interest of states, territories and commonwealths. The conference operates from offices in Denver and Washington, D.C.