The Department of Transportation’s highway programs remained shuttered for a second day, as lawmakers again failed to convince Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., to drop his objections to a temporary jobs/transportation measure.
Bunning is insisting that any legislation be paid for rather than add to the budget deficit, and his objection is stalling a short-term extension of both jobless benefit checks and DOT programs paid for by the Highway Trust Fund.
Although efforts are under way in both the House and Senate to move along separate measures that would end the standoff, Bunning again today rejected taking the most direct route by removing his objection to let the short-term bill proceed.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called on him today to allow the measure to proceed, but Bunning again objected. Bunning has said he supports all the provisions of the bill, but insists that Congress pay for it rather than invoke emergency authority so it would not be subject to normal deficit rules.
He first stood against the measure on Feb. 25, and repeated his objection the next day. That forced the Senate into a weekend break without extending the highway programs and jobless benefits that were due to expire Feb. 28.
As of March 1, DOT began furloughing about 2,000 workers without pay, and halted road and bridge construction work on federal lands that require it to have trust fund-paid inspectors on hand.
That also stopped the department from processing both normal federal aid to states for highway and transit programs, and stimulus grants. The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that oversees commercial truck safety were largely closed Tuesday, along with some other DOT operations.
Various state DOTs are also saying they have either curbed their road construction projects or will soon have to because the DOT interruption has cut off funds they were counting on.
“The immediate cessation of funding for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) is of greatest concern,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. MCSAP provides state grants for roadside inspection of commercial trucks and buses.
“Without this money, states may not be able to provide sufficient enforcement efforts necessary to ensure commercial vehicles are in a safe operating condition, and that truck and bus drivers are properly licensed and in compliance with federal safety regulations such as the federal hours-of-service regulations,” Graves said.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.