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Senate Preserves TIGER Program While House Punts on Long-Term Bill

Advocates successfully mobilized to prevent the Senate from eliminating the multi-modal TIGER grant program in its long-term transportation bill, but that bill appears to be on hold for at least another five months after the House passed another short-term extension of the current law.

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The TIGER program helps cities access federal funds to support projects like this riverfront greenway in Waterbury, CT. Image: Naugatuck Valley COG
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Transportation for America reports that Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune struck the language eliminating TIGER after receiving 1,700 messages of support for the program.

However, another extension appears inevitable. While James Inhofe claims the Senate is just days away from passing his committee's DRIVE Act, the House passed a five-month patch yesterday rather than take up the Senate’s bill.

Here are a few things to know:

    • As if the endless quest for a funding source weren’t enough to complicate the bill’s path, senators have added another obstacle: an amendment to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives would like to kill. The Hill reports that Texas Republican Ted Cruz is “willing to use any and all procedural tools” -- possibly including the filibuster -- to stop the Ex-Im Bank.
    • The five-month patch versus six-year bill question splits along cameral, not partisan, lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on board with a long-term bill. According to National Journal, “McConnell has reserved floor time next week for the highway bill -- and the week after, if needed.”
    • The House’s $8.1 billion patch is funded primarily through new rules to ensure greater tax compliance -- “giving the IRS more information about mortgages, more time to investigate certain tax avoidance and new rules to prevent people from understating income on inherited property,” according to Bloomberg, as well as TSA fees and other measures. House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan says the patch gives them time to hammer out a long-term bill, which he swears will happen.
    • With a gas tax increase (the simplest funding solution) declared a no-go by leadership in both houses of Congress, corporate tax repatriation has gained some traction, and a new idea -- reducing retirement benefits for federal workers -- has been floated. That’s the favored approach of Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who doesn’t like the other two methods.

Congress only has eight legislative days left on the calendar before the July 31 deadline, when the current federal transportation authorization expires. With no new funds, the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account is expected to go insolvent before the end of the summer; the transit account shortly thereafter.

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