UPDATE 3-U.S. Congress extends transport funding though May, averting cuts
(Recasts with Senate passage, new lawmaker quote)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Thursday approved a $10.9 billion funding extension for transportation construction projects through May 2015, averting a cutback in federal payments to states that was due to start on Friday.
Senate approval by a vote of 81-13 sent the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law after it bounced back and forth between the Senate and House of Representatives this week, raising uncertainty over the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.
The Senate on Tuesday had passed a smaller $8.1 billion plan lasting only through the end of 2014 that aimed to force action on a long-term highway and mass transit funding plan during the post-election, "lame duck" session of Congress.
But the House earlier on Thursday rejected the Senate plan and sent back its longer extension, which Democrats complained would put off consideration of long-term funding until next year, when a newly elected Congress takes office.
In the end, senators from both parties were unwilling to risk blame for allowing the Highway Trust Fund to run dry as they start a five-week summer recess on Friday.
"We really can't walk away from the Highway Trust Fund, we can't let it stagger and fall. Millions of jobs and thousands of businesses depend on it," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who was the chief proponent of the shorter extension.
The Department of Transportation had said that on Friday it would start reducing payments to states by as much as 30 percent from the fund, which is financed through fuel taxes. Continuación...