WASHINGTON - The Senate has agreed to move forward with a measure worth $54 billion in funding for transportation and housing projects, but the bill's future is far from clear.
The bill, marking fiscal year 2014 appropriations for HUD, the Department of Transportation, and related agencies, passed a major procedural hurdle today when the Senate voted 73-26 to continue consideration of the legislation. It will now be up for a final simple vote, possibly next week.
Despite the strongly bipartisan support for moving the measure forward, the bill could also foreshadow new budget battles anticipated in the fall.
Should the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Act (THUD) pass its vote, the Senate will still need to reconcile the bill with its counterpart in the House of Representatives before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 - an unlikely scenario given the lower chamber will be in session less than three weeks during that time. The House version is also far more austere, at $44 billion, and is one the White House announced Monday would be vetoed if it made it to the president's desk.
"Six [Senate] Republicans voted to get it out of the Appropriations Committee; 19 voted to bring it onto the floor here," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters today. "This is really a common-sense jobs bill, a bill that we used to do all the time. So it's a shame that instead of focusing on the middle class, our colleagues in the House are obsessed with appeasing the tea party."
Reid said the Senate bill's transportation projects were important to service the 70,000 "deficient" bridges in the United States. The bill also includes funding for existing housing subsidy programs for the poor, which would be cut nearly in half to $1.6 billion, levels The Hill reports haven't been seen since 1975.
Unless a broader budget agreement can be reached, the Senate bill would still be subjected to the deep across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester, even if it did make it into law. Implemented as a result of Washington's inability to break gridlock last spring, the sequester is now a seemingly new normal for the federal government's spending levels. Although the Senate bill contains $10 billion more in funding than the House, the cuts' effects would reverse some of those gains.
Today's legislation is one of 12 for various agencies all subject to the Sept. 30 deadline. Should Congress fail to reach a consensus, the most likely outcome for lawmakers going into the fall would be the adoption of what is called a "continuing resolution," a temporary bandage mechanism that funds the government at current levels - including the sequester.
The practice has become commonplace in recent years as politicians repeatedly fail to pass budgets, but would stave off a government shutdown.