MILWAUKEE -- The clock is ticking for Congress to pass a funding extension for a new highway bill that would provide federal money for road repaving and bridge restoration. The deadline for lawmakers to act is Saturday, June 30th, and the bill is stalled in the House.
Wisconsin receives $1 billion a year in federal transportation funding. If Congress fails to pass a new highway bill by June 30th, construction projects could come to a screeching halt.
The highway bill is usually not a point of partisan contention. Lawmakers are typically quick to pass a bill that would bring money back to their districts to make improvements to roads that used by both Democrats and Republicans.
"You have one party that that has an ideology that's based on not having government involved in our economy at all," Rep. Gwen Moore (D - Milwaukee) said.
"The problem we're running into is Democrats are happy to spend money beyond what is being brought in, which is going to expand our debt and deficit," Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said.
Sen. Johnson voted against a measure to reauthorize highway funding. He says infrastructure improvements are important, but he believes ballooning debt is a threat to national security.
"That's the real hang up -- how do you pay for -- or produce -- infrastructure spending without incurring more debt," Sen. Johnson said.
"We've got 800 or 900 bridges that are not only in disrepair, but are dangerous. Not having bridge and road repair impairs our ability for trucks, freight, food -- all kinds of goods and services -- to move across the country. We're not going to be able to provide 550,000 jobs to Americans, primarily in the private sector. The highways are a veritable artery that connects all of our communities," Rep. Moore said.
A 47-member conference committee that includes Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble is expected to meet this week to try to hammer out a compromise. It's possible there could be a short-term extension, but some observers say each day that the impasse continues, a deal is less likely.
The country's transportation policy has been funded by a series of nine "stop gap extensions" over the course of 1,000 days. The last long-term transportation bill was signed in 2005.
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