Senate extends highway program until Feb. 28

| December 22, 2009

The U.S. Senate on Saturday, Dec. 19, authorized an extension of the current highway program until Feb. 28, 2010, as part of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The final 88-10 vote occurred on a motion to concur with the House version of H.R. 3326, meaning that it was not amended by the Senate and allowing it to go straight to President Obama for his signature. Prior to the final vote, members agreed to waive any applicable violations of budget provisions by a vote of 63-35. The House recently passed H.R. 3326 by a vote of 395-34.

Senate leaders and the Obama administration have backed an 18-month extension mostly on the grounds that it would give Congress ample time to consider long-term changes in highway programs, including financing. But House transportation leaders, led by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee James Oberstar (D-Minn.), have resisted that idea, saying Congress should not wait so long to deal with vital infrastructure and safety challenges.

Oberstar and other House transportation leaders have drafted a full six-year bill that would make significant changes in highway programs, including a mandate for electronic onboard recorders and creation of a clearinghouse of positive drug and alcohol test results. The 2005 surface transportation bill — the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) — expired at the end of September, necessitating a three-month extension that expired this month, prompting the latest two-month extension.

In addition to providing $626 billion to the Defense Department for the budget year that began almost three months ago, H.R. 3326 also waives fees on Small Business Administration loans and increases to 90 percent the portion of such loans guaranteed by SBA.

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