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Congress passes 3-month highway, transit aid patch

admin//July 30, 2015//

Congress passes 3-month highway, transit aid patch

admin//July 30, 2015//

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WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama a three-month bill to keep highway and transit money flowing to states on Thursday, one day before the deadline for a cutoff of funds.

Earlier in the day, the Senate passed a sweeping, long-term transportation bill, setting up discussions with the House this fall on what the future course of transportation policy should be and how to pay for programs.

The Senate approved the short-term bill by vote of 91 to 4. The House passed the same bill a day earlier, and then left for its August recess.

Lawmakers said they hope the 3-month patch — the 34th short-term transportation extension since 2009 — will be Congress’ last. It extends the government’s authority to process aid payments to states through Oct. 29. Without congressional action, that authority would have expired at midnight Friday.

The bill also provides $8 billion to shore up the federal Highway Trust Fund through mid-December. The fund’s balance was forecast to drop below a $4 billion cushion necessary to prevent disruptions in payments to states in early August.

The extension bill also fills a $3.4 billion hole in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget. The money gap threatened to force the closure of hospitals and clinics nationwide

The $350 billion long-term bill, approved by vote of 65 to 34, would make changes to highway, transit, railroad and auto safety programs. However, its sponsors were only able to find enough money to pay for the first three years of the six-year bill. That’s not as long as many lawmakers and the White House wanted, nor as much money, but it was enough to win the support of many state and local officials, transportation related industries, and labor unions who have been imploring Congress for years to pass to bill that will provide states the certainty that they can count on federal aid as they plan major construction projects.

The bill’s passage is “a win for our country,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Many thought we’d never get here, but we have.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., negotiated compromises with McConnell that helped pick up enough Democratic support for the bill for it to clear procedural hurdles and pass.

“We had to give some ground, but we found common ground,” Boxer said. “And we all believe this bill is so important for our nation.

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