As 2015 draws to a close, Congress is working feverishly to complete work on a number of outstanding issues, including funding the federal government. There has been some important progress. On December 1st, House and Senate conferees on the highway bill announced they had reached agreement on a final bill. If approved by both chambers, this agreement would signify the first time in a decade that funding certainty of more than two years will be provided to states for roads and bridges. The bill is titled Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act aka FAST. Who says Congress doesn't have a sense of humor?
The 1,300-page bill will provide each state with a five percent increase in federal highway funding for the first year and an eight percent increase for local transit agencies with $205 billion to be spent on highway funding and $48 billion on transit projects. It does not, however, address a long standing fundamental funding problem with the bill as it does not increase the gas tax and uses money from a Federal Reserve program a part of its' funding mechanism.
The House and Senate will also consider the conference report on the Every Child Achieves Act, which is a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. The program has been due for reauthorization for eight years. It was moved through the Senate by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and through the House by Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). And all four support the final compromise package.
Both these bills have worked their way through a long, complicated process involving numerous committees, two chambers and who can say for sure how many factions, to reach agreement. Perhaps this signals the beginning of a new ability for Congress to work together.
We will have a better understanding of whether they can maintain this as they tackle the omnibus appropriations bill -- they face a December 11 deadline -- which is needed to provide funding for the entire government for fiscal year 2016. Here is hoping they continue to choose to work together for the greater good of the country.