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Senate Showdown Expected on House Highway Funding Bill

The Senate will hear four amendments to the House bill, passed July 15, in the last week of July. Sens. Boxer, Carper, and Corker want the funding extension to terminate on December 19 rather than May 31. On August 1, DOT reduces payments to states.
July 27, 2014, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on Wednesday (July 23) said the Senate will take up a $10.8 billion bill the House passed earlier this month, but will allow votes on four amendments. Members from both parties are eager to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which accounts for about one-quarter of the nation's spending on mass-transit systems and the repair, operation and maintenance of highways. The House-passed measure keeps the fund going through May 2015," writes Siobhan Hughes for The Wall Street Journal.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer's amendment on the Highway Trust Fund patch bill is to extend funding "through Dec. 19 of this year and cut spending to about $8.1 billion," notes Hughes. This amendment is also supported by Sens. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Tom Carper (D., Del.). All amendments will need a 60-vote threshold, which means they will need to have bipartisan support. Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.) appeared to be open to it, making for possibly two Republican votes at a minimum.

The major argument for the reduced time length (Dec. 19 vs. May 31) in the Boxer amendment is "to force lawmakers to act on a long-term highway bill before the next Congress takes office in 2015—but after the November midterm elections, when partisan political pressures might ease," writes Hughes.

But if the Boxer amendment were to be adopted, the House and Senate would then have to negotiate an end date for the bill and reconcile two alternative spending plans—with precious little time to do so.

The remaining three amendments:

  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden's (D., Ore.) wants to change the controversial House funding mechanism of pension smoothing to "measures designed to get people to pay what they already owe the federal government."
  • "(E)xempt roads, highways and bridges that are damaged in emergency situations from environmental reviews and permitting requirements."
  • Keith Laing of The Hill writes that the TEA bill, based on the concept of "devolution", will finally have its day on the floor of the senate. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is the primary backer. It has the support of the Heritage Foundation.

“Under this new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached,” Lee said in a statement. “Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build smarter and more affordable projects.” 

If I understand S.1702 correctly, the federal 18.4-cent gas tax would be eliminated, and it would be up to each state to determine whether to continue charging the tax, though all revenues would remain with the state, not sent to Washington. Perhaps we'll have more to report after the vote is taken on this amendment.

Correspondent's note on access to Wall Street Journal article: "Subscriber-only content will be available to non-subscribers for up to seven days after July 25."

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal
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