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Stopgap Bill Could Restore Transportation Programs Frozen by Vote Delay

Lawmakers are readying a stopgap bill that could revive key surface transportation programs that lapsed on Thursday and bring back nearly 4,000 furloughed workers while party leaders negotiate a way to pass a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan.

While Congress passed legislation on Thursday to avert a lapse in federal funding at the end of the fiscal year, it did not address the existing transportation programs included in the broader infrastructure bill President Biden and lawmakers negotiated this year. With the legislation delayed by deep disputes within the Democratic caucus, the new fiscal year began on Friday with those programs temporarily frozen and about 3,700 workers furloughed.

Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told Democrats in a private meeting on Friday that he had prepared legislation that would extend the programs for 30 days, according to two people briefed on the remarks.

There remains a chance that it would not be needed, if the bipartisan infrastructure legislation should pass. President Biden went to Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon to push for a vote in a private meeting with House Democrats, and the Senateremained in session on Friday, with few senators physically present, and could take it up with unanimous consent from all 100 senators.

The Department of Transportation said that the administration was working to swiftly reauthorize the frozen programs, and that payments to reimburse state and transit agencies for existing grants could allow work to continue uninterrupted.

Democratic leaders had used the fiscal year deadline to pressure rank-and-file lawmakers to support passage of the bipartisan bill on Thursday, though they were ultimately unsuccessful. The bill would update and maintain the highway, transit and rail programs for five years, among other provisions.

Jim Tymon, the executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, called the inaction “disappointing” and “detrimental to our economy and the quality of life of our communities.”