WASHINGTON — Contractors already stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues now also face a Congress-created crisis as they deal with a short-term extension of the law authorizing highway and transit spending at the time of the year they traditionally begin planning for next year’s long-term projects.
The current highway law, enacted in 2015, has already been extended twice: once for a year at the end of September 2020 and again on Oct. 2. The second extension, which Congress passed after the House was unable to secure the votes for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that included five-year reauthorization language as well as $550 billion in new spending, expires Oct. 31.
For contractors, the temporary extension is a letdown. They had hoped that by now Congress would have passed legislation infusing federal dollars into the nation’s roads, bridges and rail. The delay, they say, is disheartening.
Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association, compares the process to a roller coaster. Where once he saw in Congress “the first true glimmer of a noticeable federal interest in the nation’s transportation system,” he now questions whether the bill will get done at all.
Democrats have been in a standoff over that bill and a larger tax and spending measure that includes the rest of President Joe Biden’s economic priorities.
Progressives say they won’t vote for the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the larger measure, while centrists such as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona say the larger measure is too costly for them to support in its current form.
All 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus must vote for the larger bill for it to pass under budget reconciliation rules.
Runyan said he fears the longer it drags out, the fewer Republicans will back what was originally pitched as a bipartisan bill. He was mystified when House GOP leadership whipped their members to vote against it.
“It really is very deflating,” he said. “Lord knows you can’t let the other side even appear to have a win.”
But contractors say they have become accustomed to such delays, as Congress has a long history of passing short-term extensions for what were envisioned as five-year reauthorizations.