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Senate Passes House Transportation Funding Bill; On to Obama

After the House rejected the Senate's amendments to their Highway Trust Fund extension bill, the Senate passed the bill 81-13 on July 31. Payments to states will continue unchanged through May 2015 when the next hurdle awaits
August 1, 2014, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Pension smoothing, "a proposal that budget experts across the ideological spectrum have dubbed a budget gimmick," writes The Hill'Ramsey Cox, will provide most of the $10.9 billion transfer from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund, theoretically supposed to be self-financing from fuel taxes and other user fees, to keep highways and transit funded through May, 2015.

Had the Senate not passed the House bill, the Department of Transportation would have had to delay reimbursement checks to states effective August 1, having dramatic effects on the nation's infrastructure and employment.

"Failure to act would have put 700,000 jobs at risk, according to the administration," write Kevin Robillard and Adam Snider.

“A vote against this motion is a vote to shut down transportation and construction projects,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a floor speech before the House voted to approve the same measure, 272-150. “The American people deserve better.”

Upon reaching the Senate, Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said ahead of the vote, “The only viable solution is for the Senate to take up the House bill and pass it. … We don’t have any other options if we want to get this done before the recess,” writes Cox.

"Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said it would have been “legislative malpractice” for the Senate to simply accept the House version without attempting to put its own stamp on the bill, but in the end there were enough senators to pass the House bill as is."

Both Wyden and Hatch preferred to mostly "use tax revenue to pay for the shortfall [difference between fuel tax receipts and spending], such as increasing tax compliance on home mortgage interest," adds Cox, rather than pension smoothing.

"Republicans have objected to the Senate approach, arguing Congress should not empower the IRS, after its mishandling of applications for tax-exempt groups," notes Cox. In addition, the Senate bill's funding would only last to December 19.

The task of crafting a reauthorization of MAP-21 will now await a new Congress, just as the House wanted. The good news is that the Highway Trust Fund ticker can be reset.

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Published on Thursday, July 31, 2014 in The Hill
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