"Lame duck" session could lay an egg for industry

News AASHTO Journal November 12, 2004
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When Congress convenes Nov

When Congress convenes Nov. 16 for a "lame duck" session, it appears it may drop plans for an omnibus appropriations bill in favor of a continuing resolution that will provide funding for federal agencies until sometime next year--a move that could freeze funding for highway and transit programs at the FY 2004 level.

Only four of the 13 major appropriations bills were enacted before Congress recessed for the November elections, forcing legislators into returning post-election to finish the spending bills, including that for the Department of Transportation. The current continuing resolution, which continues spending at FY 2004 levels, will expire on Nov. 20.

While appropriators could attempt to move the bills individually, or to combine them into one large omnibus bill, a wide range of controversies could jeopardize congressional approval of a massive package. Another difficult issue is how to reconcile the differing spending levels between House and Senate bills.

With Congressional leaders apparently focusing on a relatively short session, possibly only a week, some observers believe it becomes possible that they will resort to simply extending the continuing resolution into next year, or possibly even through the rest of FY 2005.

Such a move would mean lower funding levels for both highway and transit programs during the continuing resolution. The federal-aid highway program was funded at $33.6 billion for FY 2004. House appropriators had set funding for the coming year at $34.6 billion, while the Senate appropriators had backed a level of $34.9 billion.

Senate appropriators had recommended transit funding of $7.75 billion for FY 2005, while the House had proposed a continuation of the FY 2004 level of $7.2 billion. A continuing resolution which extended for the remainder of the year could maintain the FY 2004 level of $7.2 billion.

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