(Corrects typographical error in headline)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, July 21 U.S. Senate leaders were
nearing an agreement to vote this week on a $10.9 billion
transportation funding extension already passed by the House of
Representatives, signaling a desire to minimize drama over road
construction money this summer.
Senior aides to Senate Democrats and Republicans said that
under the plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will offer up
the Republican-authored House measure, which aims to restore
enough money to the Highway Trust Fund to keep federal funds
flowing to road, bridge and transit construction projects
through the end of May 2015.
Without new money for the Highway Trust Fund, the Department
of Transportation has said it will start to cut back federal
funding for projects by nearly a third starting on Aug. 1, the
same day Congress begins a five-week summer recess.
The House bill would raise revenues from pension accounting
changes, higher customs fees and a transfer from an
environmental cleanup fund.
A similar measure passed by the Senate Finance Committee
uses the same funding mechanisms but adds some tax compliance
revenue measures that a number of Republicans are likely to
Reid will also allow a vote on that measure as an amendment
to the House bill, the Democratic aide said. He also will allow
a vote on an amendment from Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer to
limit the extension until the end of 2014, the aides added,
noting that the plan could still be delayed by objections from
Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, has argued in favor of a shorter extension that would
force Congress to pass a longer-term transportation funding
measure during the "lame duck" session that follows November
congressional elections. She has said the House bill would delay
action until next year, when a newly elected Congress takes
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Monday
the House plan was a temporary fix that sets up a new highway
funding crisis next year. He has requested a $302 billion,
six-year transportation funding measure.
"It is hard to imagine that Congress will not push the
snooze button on this issue again until crunch time," Foxx said
at a news conference.
But there is significant bipartisan support for the House
measure, which would avoid any slowdown in highway projects and
construction worker layoffs for about 10 months. President
Barack Obama also voiced support for it during stops at highway
construction sites last week around the United States.
The Highway Trust Fund, which has been supported by fuel tax
revenues since its inception in 1956, has run chronically short
of money in recent years because of higher construction costs
and improved vehicle fuel economy.
Trucking firms and many other industry groups favor higher
fuel tax rates, unchanged since 1993, to return it to solvency,
a method also advocated by Boxer. But Republicans and the Obama
administration have largely ruled that out this year.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)