It did not take long for new House Speaker Paul Ryan to record his first major victory.
The House of Representatives passed a six-year highway bill worth $339 billion by a 363-64 tally. Ryan allowed votes on more than 100 amendments from both Republicans and Democrats, which might have fueled the bipartisan support. The bill will revive the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and federal-reserve surplus funds will help pay for highway improvements rather than reducing the payout bankers receive from the central bank. The surplus capital comes from the nation’s 12 reserve banks and totaled $29.3 billion as of Oct. 29.
“It cuts waste, it prioritizes good infrastructure, it will help create good-paying jobs . . . and it is the result of a more open process,” said Ryan. “It’s a good start. It’s a glimpse of how we should be doing the people’s business.”
The current highway funding extension expires on Nov. 20, so both the House and Senate will meet in conference to try and hammer out a deal. The Obama administration was encouraged by the recent developments.
The House bill also provides more local control by increasing the share of the Surface Transportation Program that is sub-allocated to metropolitan areas by 1% per year, starting at 51% in FY 2016 and going up to 55% by 2020.
Additional items in the House bill include:
- It streamlines the environmental review and permitting process;
- It establishes a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau to provide assistance to state, local and private partners as they move various transportation projects forward;
- It creates a Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program to help improve the movement of goods across the country; and
- It promotes the deployment of transportation technologies that will enhance the surface transportation system by reducing congestion and increasing efficiency.