Surprise Senate highway vote near deadline
July 29th, 2014
08:25 PM ET
3 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. Rabid Goon

    so they agreed to do absolutely nothing. sounds about right.

    July 29, 2014 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  2. hozo1

    broken .. broken .. broken .. fire em all

    July 29, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  3. mountainlady5281

    Right.....typical move for the House of Representatives and the GOP. Take a critical issue, like highways and use it to extort another break for their big corporate buddies by adding on a way for employers to short change their employees even more than they already do. That's been the story of this Congress. More and more breaks for the wealthy and big corporations or nothing gets done that the country needs. If anyone is considering impeachment....let's consider impeaching Congress. They are holding the entire nation hostage to their commitment to sell out to big money.

    July 29, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  4. Ignicio Smith

    There is so much fraud and corruption in highway bills. Unions overcharging on work performed, excessive administrative and engineering costs, cost overruns, litigation and the list continues. Best to scrap the whole thing and let municipalities float bonds for these projects.

    July 29, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Once again, playing with our tax dollars to pander votes. Vote them all out. I don't care about party affiliation. Vote every incumbent or.

    July 29, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  6. Donnie the Lion

    "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." And those senator are right. They are paid to fix problems and plan NOW, not continually delay decisions year after year.

    July 29, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  7. Searcher1

    The TEA-GOP plays too many games with Americas infrastructure. Remember it was a Republican, IKE Eisenhower, that did the National Highway plan! FUND IT!

    July 29, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  8. Bill

    Our highway fund takes in plenty of money to keep our infrastructure up to date. The problem is, our government keeps taking money out of the funds and uses it for other stuff.

    July 29, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  9. anymouse

    Oh great, now we've got the House and Senate bickering. And it simply sets up another "cliff" for them to play around with.

    July 29, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  10. Indyswimmer66

    What a surprise... Congress does nothing. People don't get it, our form of government doesn't work any more.

    July 29, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  11. Collin Goodman

    Good to see the adults in the Senate are putting the infants in the House in their place.

    July 29, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  12. Dave

    Republicans are going to face a surprise midterm nightmare.

    July 29, 2014 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  13. EdwardTr

    It would be nice to know how the funding sources actually differ between the two bills. This is poor reporting leaving out a key point like that.

    July 29, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  14. mutantsubhuman

    Cut O-tax to $0 annually to fix the roads.

    July 29, 2014 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  15. jason

    GOP: the enemy of America

    July 29, 2014 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  16. Ray Nagin

    No shortage of funds. The problem is the way they are used. All that gasoline tax....

    July 29, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  17. Gurgyl

    -pass INFRASTRUCTURE BILL. USA needs infrastructure–not wars.

    July 29, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  18. james

    The republican dominated house always finds a way to toss the corporations giving them millions in campaign donations a bone....and somehow have convinced some not too bright middle class voters that if these megarich corporations make a few just a few more million/billions it may just trickle down to you some day.....

    July 29, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  19. i'm impressed

    politics trumps everything these says. what a bunch of uselessness.

    July 29, 2014 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  20. Mike M

    This congress can't even make a deal to keep roads going...............unreal.

    July 29, 2014 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  21. karek40

    Why are our highway funds going into someone's pension? Seems to me that is the responsibility of the contractor or the state through their taxes.

    July 29, 2014 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  22. Jim in Florida

    Congress is dysfunctional on both sides of the aisle. Back and forth and last minute bs. Do your job – the one you get paid for and make god knows how much more from lobbyists. Goodness,

    Unhappy GOP in Florida

    July 29, 2014 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  23. David

    Fat chance the congress will agree and do something good for this country!

    July 29, 2014 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  24. Gary Sutphin

    " this Senate bill would do away with a controversial funding measure called “pension smoothing,” which allows corporations to contribute less to employee pensions". Not surprising...even when the house DOES do something there's always some little catch to help out corporations and screw the little guy just a little bit more. What a pathetic charade of a representative democracy this country has become.

    July 29, 2014 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  25. karek40

    Why are our highway funds (federal taxes) going into someone's pension? Seems to me that their pensions should be paid by the contractor or by the state through state taxes.

    July 29, 2014 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
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