For most of the last 10 years, the Highway Trust Fund has been a government account constantly on the brink of depletion. In the next several days, however, Congress is likely to replenish it for the rest of the decade.
House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday announced a bipartisan agreement on a five-year reauthorization of federal transportation programs—the longest such measure that Congress has advanced since 2005. Both chambers are expected to pass the deal in the next two weeks before leaving for the year.
At a cost of $305 billion, the final compromise is a bit smaller than a $340 billion bill passed by the House last month. The Senate had previously approved its own proposal that lasted for six years but only paid for three of them. To resolve the differences, the negotiators shortened the length of the bill by a year but made sure it did not add significantly to the deficit. Because Congress was unwilling to increase the gas tax or find another revenue source to sustain transportation funding into the future, lawmakers turned to measures that conservatives and fiscal hawks view as gimmicks. Advocates for higher infrastructure spending say a new revenue source—likely a tax increase of some sort—is needed to fully update the nation’s roads, bridges, and rails. A proposal released Monday by Hillary Clinton would nearly double what Congress is planning to spend.