Surprise Senate highway vote near deadline
July 29th, 2014
08:25 PM ET
2 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. king

    As the repubs have choked this country's infrastructure back to the 20th century, China is on it's way to being the most extravagant modernized country on the planet, have you been to China lately, WOW!!! This what i use to say about the united state long time ago, but now it's just heh. The repubs and their insane hatred for our president have obstruct our country backward in time. They failed to obstruct our presisent to a sibgle term. Now they are geared up to obstruct him into a messed up legacy, to sour the people's appetite to pick Hillary as the next president. I guest there will be even more obstruction, because the repubs cannot govern because of their right winged teapartiers, so they will just continue their mischief and mud slinging.

    July 29, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  2. barb'sbarb

    If America put all the money wasted in the war in Iraq and the rebuilding of countries whose citizens hate us into rebuilding our infrastructure maybe this would not be an issue. Nah. If we did that the military industrial complex wouldn't be profiting -

    July 29, 2014 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  3. John

    Senator Roger Wicker calling it a substantially better plan is of no consequence to Boehner......It has to be the House's idea, the fact that Highway construction will have to stop due to defunding is immaterial

    July 29, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  4. gstlab3

    I want everyone to know the reason they stall and put on bandaids on this like so many other things.,
    There is no more money and if they print more the U.S. Dollar will collapse even faster and we will have unstoppable inflation which is called hyper inflation and that allways leads to economic collapse.
    There is no more tax money to be had and there is no industry to support this cash eating monster in D.C.

    One other big problem being ignored is that they cannot even find the money to pay for pensions for people who are allready retired from DOT in all the states.

    July 29, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  5. Shakira

    It would be really nice for a chance if Congress would actually do something that would help the people they were "elected" by. I don't get why people keep electing these same people who have zero interest in doing their jobs.

    July 29, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  6. walkadee

    Reid will under no circumstances allow a House Bill to pass the Senate.

    July 29, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  7. Alex

    Why is it that congress cannot come up and pass a long term bill or budget.
    If the Congress was a football player team they would all be punters.

    July 29, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  8. Manuel Labor

    What's the source of the funding? Does the writer of this hastily written piece understand funding? The needed gasoline tax increase, for example? Did she ask? It probably doesn't matter if the highways get screwed up. I have an old car, and the EPA's ethanol has pretty much killed it.

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

    Under no circumstances will Reid allow a House version to pass the Senate.

    July 29, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  10. Just

    Dirty Harry Reid is at it again.

    July 29, 2014 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  11. reality

    Proof that gerry mandered redistricting has been a disaster for this country. No reason to compromise anymore about anything...whomever came up with the idea and implimented it should be tried as a traitor against his/her country.

    July 29, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  12. tm1946

    Harry read rules and the democrats will blame the GOP. God forgive the democratic party for the damage it has done in the name of the party and buying votes, I cannot.

    July 29, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  13. tm1946

    Harry Reid rules and the democrats will blame the GOP. God forgive the democratic party for the damage it has done in the name of the party and buying votes, I cannot.

    July 29, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  14. fletc3her

    This is no way to run a country.

    July 29, 2014 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  15. scurley2014

    Because you can't spell "government in action" without "government inaction".

    July 29, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  16. LeRoy_Was_Here

    We have a wildly dysfunctional government. Is America becoming simply ungovernable? And, if so, what are the implications of that?

    July 29, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  17. King

    Is Congress delaying something really a surprise to anyone?

    July 29, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  18. Jeff

    OK – so the Fed's collect taxes and redistribute (portions) to the States for highway funds. Why not just get out of that business and let each state handle their own? Pretty simple. Or not.

    July 29, 2014 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  19. 1alien1

    i know how to get the repubs to vote on it, tell them it is money for the oil industry

    July 29, 2014 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  20. KJ

    Boehner is a BoneHead!

    July 29, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  21. James Klimaski

    It was nice to see that the Senate recognized that paying for the highways and transportation by picking the pockets of working Americans raiding their pension funds was not the way to go. However, in the end income inequality will win out and the rich will get their hands back in the workers' pockets.

    July 29, 2014 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  22. 2020

    What? Beohner, what do you think you are doing? is it not enough spanking on GOP? watch when it comes November.

    July 29, 2014 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  23. Rascalmcdoogle

    This clowns can't agree on anything, time to completely clean house.

    July 29, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  24. vj

    Good finally one headache is over.

    July 29, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  25. Never Learn

    Wasn't sequestration passed to force Congress to come up with a better long term solution? Guess those who get elected don't learn from their prior screw ups.

    July 29, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
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