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Will the Highway Trust Fund shut down?

The federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU – which pays for essentially all federally funded transportation projects through the Highway Trust Fund and has already been extended a number of times – was set to be extended again today before it expires on Sunday at Midnight. To expedite the extension of several other laws, Congress bundled the SAFETEA-LU extension with unemployment benefits, flood insurance and others, with serious consequences. Volatile Kentucky Senator and former Major League Baseball player, Jim Bunning decided to filibuster the bill to protest the unemployment extension (he believes it should be paid for with unused stimulus funds). The Senate leadership on both sides offered to vote on the idea, but to no avail. The Senate is now out of session and will not be able to vote on the extensions until Tuesday.

In the event that the Highway Trust Fund shuts down, the government will furlough their employees, except for the highest ranking, as of Tuesday morning.  They would stop cutting reimbursement checks to state DOTs to fund their projects, which for cash-strapped states would likely halt progress. (In an additional twist, the Federal Highway Administration is required to redistribute unobligated ARRA stimulus funds on Tuesday, March 2nd, but it is uncertain what would happen if their employees cannot come to work.) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would stop working on the Toyota recall. This will send a general chill through states, who may become hesitant to start new projects until a long-term bill is signed.

A shutdown could be averted if the House passes the Senate version of the jobs bill the Senate passed last week (H.R. 2847), which would keep current programs intact. Any modifications and the Senate would be required to vote on it before it became law.

As we wait to see how this plays out, you can watch Senator Bunning block the vote on the extension.

UPDATE: Elana Schor at StreetsBlog Capitol Hill stays on top of the story.

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