The House easily passed a stopgap measure Wednesday that would authorize federal highway projects for the next five months, once again extending an ongoing debate over how to provide longterm funding for the nation's road infrastructure.
Lawmakers voted 312-119 to pass the bill, which extends surface transportation programs through Dec. 18. It was opposed by several dozen Republicans, and several dozen Democrats — many of the Democrats were known to oppose yet another short-term bill.
Congress has passed a series of short-term highway bill funding patches because Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on how to fund a multi-year measure, which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Highway project funding is currently authorized only until the end of July. Republican sponsors of the legislation said they want a longer-term plan, and said that's in the works.
"We want to do a multi-year highway bill," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "That is our aspiration and our goal. We know we are not going to write that bill in the next two weeks. We know we need two or three months to write that bill."
The short-term bill would cost $8 billion, a price tag covered by enhanced tax enforcement and the extension of a law allowing airline fees to be used for highway funding.
"We have an immediate and critical need," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. "If Congress fails to act, the states will not be able to be reimbursed for past expenses, transportation jobs around the country would be at risk, and 4,000 transportation employees would be furloughed."
Republicans defeated a Democratic amendment that would have partially funded a long-term highway bill by preventing U.S. companies that set up businesses overseas from paying taxes, a provision that would raise $40 billion.
The White House issued a statement signaling it will support the measure.
"While the country cannot continue to rely on short-term patches as an approach to funding the nation's infrastructure, the administration supports passage of H.R. 3038 to give the House and Senate the necessary time to complete work on a long-term bill this year that increases investment to meet the Nation's infrastructure needs," the statement read.
In the Senate, lawmakers say they are working on a long-term deal but have not yet produced a plan to pay for it. A vote is scheduled Thursday to advance a legislative vehicle for highway legislation but debate on the measure isn't expected until next week.
"We are working on a long-term bill," said a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
House and Senate Democrats have denounced a short term bill, arguing that Congress cannot continually put off crafting a six-year funding deal.
"Instead, with reckless irresponsibility, we are acting once again to dodge our duty with yet another short-term extension of our highway bill," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. "Can our transportation agencies really plan a bridge replacement or a major repair in the next five months?"