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Highway programs to experience authorization lapse as moderate & progressive Democrats negotiate spending bill
Should Congress pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill before Democrats strike a spending deal?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
UPDATED - 9/30/21 11:20pm ET
- Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the House go into recess subject to the call of the chair Thursday night without voting on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes reauthorization of surface transportation programs that lapse at midnight, meaning they will lack authorization Friday morning and workers may be furloughed.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had signaled that she would bring the bill up for a vote when it had the votes, and the decision not to hold a vote indicates it still lacks support from enough Democrats to pass as moderates and progressives debate the scope of their reconciliation bill.
- While negotiations have reportedly made progress, moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has held firm in his preference for a $1.5 trillion reconciliation bill topline instead of Democratic leaders' proposed $2.1 trillion. Progressives have declined to allow passage of the bipartisan infrastructure and surface transportation bill until Democrats reach a collective agreement on a reconciliation bill topline they believe is broad enough.
- It's unclear to what extent the Dept. of Transportation will put into effect its operational plan for a lapse in surface transportation authorization. Roughly 3,500 workers may be temporarily furloughed until the House passes the bill or both chambers act on a short-term surface transportation extension to allow Democrats to conclude their intraparty negotiations.
- The House will reconvene at 9:30am Friday morning and Pelosi may bring the package up for a vote if a deal is reached.
The original article appears below.
What’s the story?
- Both chambers of Congress on Thursday approved a stopgap funding bill to prevent a partial government shutdown from occurring at midnight tonight that was signed into law by President Joe Biden this evening.
- However, ongoing negotiations between moderate and progressive Democrats over a sweeping “social infrastructure” spending package to be passed through reconciliation threatens a lapse in the authorization for highway programs at midnight. A vote may occur late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
What’s happening with Democrats’ intraparty negotiations?
- Moderates want House Democrats to allow the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package tonight, which includes reauthorization of numerous surface transportation programs under the Dept. of Transportation. Those programs face an authorization lapse of numerous surface transportation programs, including all federal-aid highway programs, at midnight if Congress fails to act.
- They also argued for a smaller reconciliation package, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who released a statement saying he “can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March.” Manchin explained that proposing “a historic expansion of social programs while ignoring the fact that we are not in a recession and that millions of jobs remain open will only feed a dysfunction that could weaken our economic recovery.” A leaked memo from this past summer indicated Manchin told Democratic leadership he could only support a $1.5 trillion bill.
- Progressive Democrats have threatened to vote to block the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House unless the moderates commit to supporting a reconciliation package that’s large enough for progressives to get behind.
- Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in a statement that a topline of $1.5 trillion, as Manchin privately suggested over the summer, would “mean decimating vital, important programs for working families” and that “clearly $1.5 trillion would make it absolutely impossible for us to do what has to be done in order to address the crisis of climate.”
- Another issue dividing the sides is whether an agreement on a reconciliation framework that moderates and progressives alike support is sufficient. Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) has indicated a framework alone isn't enough and that she wants the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill before progressives allow the bipartisan infrastructure bill to pass.
- When their reconciliation bill reaches the floor Democrats will need near-unanimous support from their caucus because of their threadbare majorities in both chambers: Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote from a senator and can only lose three votes in the House.
- House Democrats will also need to be largely in sync on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan “hard” infrastructure package given that only 19 Republican senators (less than half of the GOP conference) voted for the bill, and the proportion of House GOP lawmakers who vote for it is expected to be smaller. Republicans have rallied against the bill due to Democrats tying together the fates of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the partisan reconciliation bill.
What happens with the transportation programs if there is an authorization lapse?
- Several thousand Dept. of Transportation workers could be temporarily furloughed starting on Friday if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the programs by the morning.
- On past occasions when a lapse in appropriations or a program’s authorization has caused federal workers at an agency to be furloughed, Congress has retroactively approved back pay for affected workers when it passes legislation to fund or reauthorize the program (although that process may take weeks).
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / WLDavies)
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