Congress about to fail on budget, but may pass highway funding

If it is September, then elected officials in Washington must be talking about short-term budget fixes. In what has become commonplace, Congress will not approve a full budget by the time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but lawmakers representing ...

If it is September, then elected officials in Washington must be talking about short-term budget fixes.

In what has become commonplace, Congress will not approve a full budget by the time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but lawmakers representing the Upper Midwest are optimistic they will succeed in passing highway funding this fall.

The overall budget to fund the federal government is being discussed, but Republicans who control Congress have not laid out their plans with less than a half a month left before current spending authorization runs out. President Barack Obama has called for a 7 percent budget increase.

If Congress and Obama do not at least pass a short-term budget before Oct. 1, there would be a partial federal government shutdown. Complicating that are plans by some conservatives to oppose any budget extension unless it contains a ban on federal funds going to Planned Parenthood, a stance that followed release of videos indicating the organization provides fetal tissue to medical researchers.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he is confident that the Planned Parenthood debate will not stop budget progress.


“Hopefully, people are going to keep their eye on the long prize ... and not get the whole government bogged down in it,” Cramer said.

Then there is a dispute that derailed the budget earlier this summer.

“We were making very good progress this year on the budget until they got into a problem over the Confederate flag,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said. “So that shut everything down. Now it is unclear what is going to happen.”

A government shutdown is not likely, Peterson said. “I can’t imagine they are going to get themselves into that problem.”

Cramer said he has no doubt a short-term budget, known as a continuing resolution, will pass before Oct. 1. He said that he hopes that within two months the full budget can pass.

Cramer said that although some budget provisions were within seconds of passing this summer before the controversy arose about flying the Confederate flag at federal facilities, he does not see that as holding up the budget again.

Upper Midwest lawmakers say a key bill is funding highway construction.

“I think that will be the bright spot in the fall,” Cramer said.


Three dozen short-term extensions have been approved for transportation over the last few years, but that does not provide state and local officials much ability to plan since they do not know when or if federal funds will flow.

“All you have to do is drive on the roads in my district to know we are not keeping up,” Peterson said.

It is a good time to fund highway work, Cramer said, because “at a time when oil prices are way down, there is a window right now where infrastructure (projects) costs a lot less than they did a year ago.”

The Senate passed its version of the transportation measure, but it stalled in the House.

While Republicans have struggled to find a highway funding source, Cramer said he expects money for five or six years to be included.

“There still is a huge amount of bipartisan support for infrastructure issues, but the funding source is the issue we are dealing with,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said.

Transportation funding is a major concern for Wisconsin farmers and manufacturers, she said, because they need to move goods to market as well as receive raw materials.

Like her colleagues in Minnesota and North Dakota, rail safety is a prime Baldwin concern.


The Federal Railway Administration recently urged railroads to be more open about reporting the condition of bridges and other infrastructure, Baldwin said. She wants to pass a provision in the transportation bill requiring more openness on such issues.

Part of requiring railroads to be more open, Baldwin added, is to make sure public safety officials know what types of material is passing through their communities.

U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a Senate Republican leader, promised to fulfill a 2014 GOP campaign promise “to get Washington working again.”

In a recent response to a presidential radio address, Thune said things have improved.

“One thing we were determined to do this year was pass a balanced budget,” Thune said. “It’s hard to believe, but the last time the House and Senate passed a joint balanced budget resolution, Facebook hadn’t been created yet.”

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., pointed out that this year has been busy, with the House passing 190 bills so far, compared to a 125 average.

“The legislative process these bills have undergone has been more open, too,” Noem said. “Every perspective has had the opportunity to be debated.”

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