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Congress Will Sprint to Finish by September 26

September 4, 2008
Congress has planned to adjourn for the year on Friday, September 26, leaving just 3 weeks to address energy security, the highway trust fund shortfall, a continuing resolution on funding for the entire government, the extension of funding for the Airport Improvement Program, extension of expiring tax provisions and any job-based stimulus package that would include additional money for infrastructure.  During this period, AGC will be closely involved in these important legislative battles. Highway Trust Fund Congress must pass HR 6532 to keep the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) from running short of revenue.  Funds are currently needed to meet obligations to pay state DOTs for highway and bridge projects already under construction as well as allowing future projects to go out to bid. Revenue projections indicate that there may not be sufficient funds in the HTF to meet ongoing obligations as early as October 2008. Congress cannot wait until next year to solve this problem. Inaction will have an immediate impact on payments to contractors and will lead to further declines in highway worker employment. Immigration The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) electronic verification system, known as Basic Pilot or E-Verify, is due to expire in November. In order to prevent the program from expiring, the House passed bi-partisan legislation that would extend the program for five years while maintaining it as a voluntary program for new hires. The Senate needs to act on similar legislation prior to the elections.  While AGC remains concerned about the accuracy and reliability of the E-Verify system, passage would prevent political battles over other bills that could negatively impact the program and AGC members. FAA The current authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs expires on September 30.  Congress will have to enact another extension to continue FAA's authority to collect aviation taxes and operate the nation's aviation system.  Congress attempted to attach the Highway Trust Fund fix to the current extension earlier this year.  It may serve as another opportunity to enact the Highway Trust Fund fix prior to the end of the 110th Congress. Second Stimulus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) proposed a second stimulus supplemental appropriations bill in late July.  It contains several billions of dollars worth of additional fiscal year 2008 spending for a variety of construction activities.  Most notably, the bill also contains a provision to transfer $8 billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund to prevent an expected deficit in the Fund.  Appropriations Congress has yet to enact any of its 12 annual appropriations measures for fiscal year 2009 and it is unlikely that it will complete work on any prior to the end of the 110th Congress.  As a result, with the current fiscal year ending on September 30, Congress will need to enact a continuing resolution to keep government programs operating in the meantime.  It is expected that the continuing resolution passed prior to adjournment will not expire until early 2009.  Moreover, it will likely only continue funding for government programs at current spending levels. Energy Security During consideration of the continuing resolution, Congress will have an opportunity to vote on offshore drilling.  This will be the first time there will be an extensive debate on energy expansion.  AGC will be working for a comprehensive plan, lobbying for the construction of additional production and transmission networks. The additional infrastructure investment will benefit the environment, the nation’s economic competitiveness and will result in increased energy efficiency. Procurement Lawmakers are hoping to use defense authorization bills in both chambers as vehicles to enact nearly two years' worth of legislation to overhaul government contracting. The House approved a wide-ranging amendment to the FY09 authorization bill that incorporates all or part of four procurement-related measures already passed by the chamber. Parts of a separate Senate-passed bill were also included. While the House and Senate last year passed separate, ambitious measures backed by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine), negotiators have failed to reconcile them. The high-priority defense policy legislation is the best way to make the contracting changes law. For more information, contact Heidi Blumenthal at (202) 547-8892 or blumenthalh@agc.org.
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