Senate Passes 3-Year Highway Funding Bill

The House is expected to work on its own multiyear bill in September.
Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed legislation Thursday that would fund the nation's crumbling transportation infrastructure for three years.

The bill authorizes spending levels for the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three with roughly $45 billion spread out over the lifetime of the bill on top of funding from the federal gasoline tax. Senators approved the bill in a 65-34 vote. Eighteen Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against it.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) called the bill, which strings together funding from miscellaneous pots, "one of the largest budgeting failures in the federal government."
鈥淭his bill represents the very worst of Washington and exemplifies why the American people are so frustrated," Corker said, adding that Congress should look to increasing "user fees," more commonly known as the gas tax, to pay for the fund.

Over the past two weeks, the upper chamber has debated the plan put together by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) -- an unlikely bipartisan trio. It sparked tense Republican infighting and is disliked by the majority of members on the House side.

"Late nights, vigorous legislating and sometimes-unpredictable outcomes may make some reach for the aspirin," McConnell said. "The push and pull between different parties, different members and different chambers is all just part of the democratic rhythm."

Republican leaders have tried to downplay the dissenting views within their caucus over how to best fix the Highway Trust Fund. House and Senate GOP leaders agreed to a path just four days before funding is set to expire, after talking past each other for weeks.

Within the Senate Republican Conference, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went so far as to call McConnell a liar after he allowed a vote on an amendment to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which was attached to the bill. According to Cruz, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, McConnell promised he would not allow a vote to attach the Ex-Im measure to the highway bill.

"Republicans in the House do not agree with the Republicans in the Senate so you have once again an inside-the-party debate," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it's never dull."

Instead of taking up the Senate's bill, the House will work on its own multiyear bill to fix the Highway Trust Fund when it returns in September. The two chambers will then iron out differences between the two pieces of legislation in a conference committee.

鈥淲e all want the House to have the space it needs to develop its own bill, because we all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in conference," McConnell said. 鈥淪o we鈥檒l take up a measure this afternoon to give them that space."

The House passed a three-month extension of highway funding on Wednesday, and then sent it over to the Senate. The upper chamber is expected to pass it Thursday afternoon and ship it to the president for his signature by July 31, when the current funding is set to expire.

This post has been updated with comment from Corker.

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