Senate committee set to approve highway bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate committee is expected to approve a bill on Wednesday to fund U.S. highway and bridge construction programs, an effort that has been stalled for two years.
The bipartisan initiative that proposes to spend $109 billion on transportation programs through 2013 may serve as a basis for a sharply divided Congress to find common ground in coming months on a domestic policy priority.
House of Representatives and Senate lawmakers from both parties have accelerated efforts to craft legislation that can be acted upon before a temporary measure authorizing road construction spending expires next March.
The last transportation funding law expired in 2009.
Lawmakers directing the effort are committed to their proposals but Democratic and Republican staffers from the House and Senate are talking to each other about details and keeping their lines of communication open.
The Obama administration would prefer a deal before 2012 -- an election year -- but different proposals coming together on Capitol Hill will slow any final negotiations, congressional aides and others with knowledge of the process said.
Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican, told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum on private infrastructure investment that Congress, if it does act, would likely do so next year.
The two-year plan to be considered and likely approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday would maintain highway construction spending at current levels, plus inflation.
The Senate Finance Committee is looking at ways to find an extra $12 billion needed to fully pay for the program, which otherwise is funded by gasoline tax receipts.
The plan would also propose an extra $1 billion per year for a popular government-run low interest loan program aimed at helping states close infrastructure funding gaps and attract private investment, in some cases.
Private infrastructure investment has been slow to catch on in the United States due partly to the length of time it takes to secure regulatory approval for a project.
States have also been less aggressive about pursuing deals even though many now have the legal authority to do so.
(Reporting by John Crawley)
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