Surprise Senate highway vote near deadline
July 29th, 2014
08:25 PM ET
5 months ago

Surprise Senate highway vote near deadline

Washington (CNN) – Alert: last-minute plot twist on a national issue that may involve your commute.

As the U.S. Highway Trust Fund skids toward an August 1 money shortage, the Senate decided Tuesday to keep the issue in limbo at least a day or two more.

The chamber veered from the course many had expected, passing its own shorter-term fix for the fund rather than agreeing to a House version that would have ended the debate for the year.

If Congress doesn’t agree on a plan by Friday, state officials across the country have said they would have to freeze or cancel hundreds of highway and bridge projects.

Surprising votes

But that deadline is still two days away. And so Tuesday the Senate surprised many inside and out of the chamber by overwhelming changing a House highway plan that some had considered a fait accompli.

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That change came in two dramatic votes: First, senators voted overwhelmingly, 71-26, to pass a bipartisan plan that was similar to the House bill, except in how it divvyed up funding sources.

But that change wasn’t enough. Minutes later, the Senate trumped that first vote with another, setting up an even sharper contrast with the House.

That final winning measure–from Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Tom Carper of Delaware and Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee–passed 66-31 and would shorten the timeframe for highway money dramatically. The move would extend funding through December, rather than through May. Senators behind the plan argued that it would force this Congress to come up with a longer-term solution for highway funding rather than punt the problem to next year.

In addition, this Senate bill would do away with a controversial funding measure called “pension smoothing,” which allows corporations to contribute less to employee pensions.

“It was quite a team effort,” Carper said, still smiling about the win. He told CNN that the vote total should command some attention in the House. “We got very respectable margins, by more than two-to-one.”

Playing ping pong on a deadline

Senators then sent the changed bill back to the House, setting up a likely ping pong volley between the two chambers. Earlier Tuesday Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, drew a hard line.

“I just want to make this clear,” Boehner said, “if the Senate sends a highway bill over here with (the Wyden-Hatch version), we’re going to strip it out and put the House-passed provisions back in and send it back to the Senate.”

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Boehner’s office did not respond to CNN’s questions about the new Senate highway bill with the shorter timeline and changed funding plan.

What now?

Ignore for a moment that nearly every member of Congress agrees that both bills are short-term fixes and a longer-term solution is needed at some point.

How will Congress avoid a highway crisis this week? Before Tuesday’s vote, the two top Senate leaders – Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – insisted that Congress will pass a solution in time.

The impending deadline and Congress’ plan to leave for five weeks starting Friday, may give the House an advantage. There may not be enough time for both the House and Senate to pass new highway bills. Instead, the House could pass its version again, go home and force the Senate to decide between shutting down construction projects and accepting the House version.

After Tuesday’s vote, Republicans who supported the rival Senate plans said they believed that the House bill ultimately would win out.

“I think in the end that’s what will happen,” Hatch said to reporters.

Sen. Roger Wicker was another Republican who voted for the Senate plans.

“In the end, the Speaker may very much insist, and he’s got the leverage,” the Mississippi lawmaker told CNN. “But I wanted to give a better proposal an opportunity.”


Filed under: Senate
soundoff (242 Responses)
  1. William Jackson

    Someone called Karek40 keeps posting "Why are our highway funds ( federal taxes) going into someones pension? Seems to me that their pensions should be paid by the contractor or by the state through state taxes." --------------------------------------------------I am not sure what he thinks he is talking about but if it is pension smoothing he is way off base. Pension smoothing according to one explanation, allows for corporations to offset a higher tax to fund Highway construction by reducing payments to pension funds. This just plain wrong as it allows for under funding of the plan the result could be a bankrupt fund having to be taken over by the federal government. Not a good idea.

    July 30, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  2. carre1

    Hopefully the voters won't forget what the Republicans are doing or have not done. We can build roads in Afghanistan but not in America. Isn't that great?

    July 30, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. MS

    Congress failing to do something is a surprise? The real surprise would be a clean bill. That would be shocking.

    July 30, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. bob

    Meg: crazy climate change ideas!
    _________________________

    Almost every single scientist in the entire world: Meg is a nutjob

    July 30, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  5. MJW

    Republicans have such deep seated hate for this president that they will go to the most extreme to display their hatred. The problem is the world and the yoounger generation are watching and observing and they will pay for generations to come. The old white folks are dwindling and they are losing control. They have decided thre has to be an asterik at this President's name but history will tell of this hatred. We cannot forget the hate displayed to then first baseball player and in the end movies are made about him and he is a living legend. BO will go down as the most humble human being, considering the hate spewed at him from thes rabid TParty. I heard a congressman on NPR said the president does nothing but when pressed he said he goes above what he is suppose to do. What do they really want? His head on a platter. Boehner is a coward and cannotstand up to the rebels in his party just like Putin cannot stand up to the rebels he supplied the arms to. Same deal.

    July 30, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  6. John

    Whatever happened to conference committees?

    July 30, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  7. Aunt Eesemm Ayte

    A pox on both houses! Our corrupted, incompetent congress continues to amaze by their sheer lack of accomplishment. Whether D or R, every one of the imbeciles needs to be tossed out, and forced to live on $20,000/year with NO health insurance.

    July 30, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. plenty

    The Interstate system in this country needs work. Congress needs to quit playing games and fund America's infrastructure. Banning recap tires for trucks would certainly help keep the highways safer and cleaner.

    July 30, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  9. bspurloc

    send BILLIONS to OTHER countries so they can cherry pick from our war machine? DONE.
    give BILLIONS to big oil cuz they dont have any $$$ for research? DONE.
    fix the USA infrastructure? NO! buy an SUV with good suspension

    July 30, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  10. jdun

    What we need is a trillion dollars spending bill to fund infrastructure for a couple of years- we are falling further and further behind other nations in modern infrastructures and are afraid to borrow a dime because of our tea party extremists. In the 50's and 60's when we built the Eisenhower highway system it was with borrowed money, and we are a great country because of it. The last time the US tried to be debt free we ended up with the Great Depression! Smarten up Washington!

    July 30, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  11. Jim Rome

    Boehner suggested we visit his website for "jobs bills." Shockingly, his website doesn't list "jobs bills", it lists corporate tax breaks! Boehner says they'll eventually lead to more hiring. That's just sick, people! Absolutely demented. I'm so tired of Republicans sabotaging our country like it's some kind of joke. Shutting it down, delay tactics. Trust me, we'll remember in November 2014 and in November 2016.

    July 30, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  12. thaddeus Kozubal

    Congress is just up to their usual tricks. The fact that poison pill type clauses are put into needed legislation because the other party would not otherwise agree with it is a common occurrence. They use the clock (deadlines) to force offensive legislation into becoming law. Allowing corporations to underfund pension promises is just another republican trick to screw the middle class legally. I'd rather see work halted than to see that become law. Why don't the democrats include a paragraph whereby John Boehner would voluntarily give up his position in the house and see how far that flies. It would be fun to see that happen.

    July 30, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  13. Paul

    What's the opposite of progress? Congress.

    July 30, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  14. Let's prosecute W

    I'm 62 years old and I have never seen such animated hatred of an elected official – not even Richard Nixon in the early seventies. And there is absolutely no logic to it at all other than a last ditch effort by mainstream republicans to maintain some sort of relevance by catering to the TP. Cantor's defeat in Virginia has put a new scare into republican House members. The worst is yet to come...

    July 30, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  15. moderatethis

    Let the states keep their money and we wouldnt need congress to fund our roads.

    July 30, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  16. Fair is Fair

    plenty

    The Interstate system in this country needs work. Congress needs to quit playing games and fund America's infrastructure. Banning recap tires for trucks would certainly help keep the highways safer and cleaner.
    --------–
    There's already an excise tax on every gallon of gas and diesel to fund repairs. While true it hasn't been raised in quite a while, the increased number in vehicles has made up for it.

    July 30, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  17. Ted

    Not a penny for anything other than roads. No koombuya, no bike trails, no impact studies, just fix and build roads.

    July 30, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
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