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.
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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.
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.
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.”
The current 'House of Representatives' needs to be replaced in it's entirety. Starting with Boehner. They are useless, a drain on the ordinary taxpayer and certainly do NOT represent the interests of the people in this country.
I think it will stupid not to pass this bill. This is a job bill.
Boehner, because he is a jerk, will never ever do the right thing
Your tax dollars at work
Cancel them. Stop the pork. It's time to balance the budget and pay off the debt.
Obama can demand $4 Billion for illegal immigrants, yet he won't fix the US's failing infrastructure?
If it wasn't for deadlines and crises, this congress wouldn't get anything done! How about we keep both houses in 18-hour-a-day sessions and the President stays in the Oval office until a few of these things are passed? Yeah, I know, fat chance.
Interesting that a REpublican said that the SENate plan is the better plan. The House will not accept it that is for sure. It must be what they wanted or it will not pass. Once again we have a situation where our representatives do not feel compelled to pass a bill which will send some money forward for our highways. Obviously they never drive on the highways because if they did they would know our highways need major work. Wouldn't it be nice to see our leaders meeting together to work out a compromise so that this bill can pass.
Our only chance is to call our reps in Washington and ask they they pass a decent highway bill. If it does not happen we have no one to blame but ourselves. We vote for these people and we allow them to be paid even though they are not really working. We can do better.
Another last minute crisis by the "just say no" gang of republicans!
Here we go again. Vote them all out.
Another deploy from our no do republican congress. If they do not vote to fund states, then hundreds of thousands road workers will be laid off sending our economy in a downward spiral.
Boehner, caving into TP extremists and ignoring America once again.
What do they care. They get special privileges flying and at airports, Federal gas cards, cars with drivers especially senior members. yes, they drive on the same garbage roads and bridges as we do, but not in their vehicles, and no wear and tear on their property. And tea bagger punk members of congress take part in the taxpayer giveaway like anyone else
What do pension plan contributions have to do with a highway project funding bill?
This congress couldn't pass gas after a turkey sandwich. Pathetic leadership from Mr. Boehner and his team. They seem absolutely bent on doing nothing for the America people except complaining about President Obama.
It sounds like they're going to just kick the can down the road...
Boehner would much rather give corporations breaks-at the cost of their employees. Watch the GOP ensure the Highway Bill fails completely. Wake up America- we have a domestic terrorism problem- and it is the GOP.
An alien invasion has commenced. U.S. Congress looks like they're doing something or I've misread something.
We need to get rid of as many of the incumbents as possible during the next election. It doesn't matter who we elect to replace them or which party they belong to, as long as they have never held elected office before and are not campaigning at the behest of a special interest group. There must be people out there who are willing to actually represent the American people and are willing to at least try to deal with the problems facing this country rather than just lining their own pockets.
Games, smoke, mirrors and no intent to do things that are truly right for this nation or its people.
The House leadership ought to know that if the highway bill gets shuffled aside and construction on bridges and highways stops – US travelers will know who once more did nothing – but collected their paycheck.
Let us make this clear. Any concessions to corporations, who contribute to the degradation of our infrastructure through land based shipping, and you may not have the legacy you think you are going to have. I urge those folks from the states where these people are from to initiate a recall petition for the purpose of voicing the American peoples thoughts. Contact these people through email, phone, mail, on the street, or wherever you may meet them or come in contact with them and voice your displeasure at the poor performance that both the House and Congress are guilty of. I do not much care for the current administration, mainly because of the failure to pursue legal recourse over the VA scandals and immigration. But at least the President is getting something accomplished where the other branches are not. The break for Congress and such is there to prevent them from passing too many laws. But what laws have they passed that benefit the American people overall. Special interest groups, lobbyists, foreign affairs are more important to these people than their own fellow Americans.
I would as soon vote to put an orangutan into office than vote Democrat or Republican this time around.
Maybe the republican'ts should just close a couple lanes on the George Washington Bridge in NYC to force their agenda.......again.
The House should use the purse to force the Senate to do something in spite of Harry Reid, the curmudgeon all alone now in the discussion of the worst Senate Majority Leader of all time. Thanks, Dems...
The country needs roads. Goods worth trillions travel on the highways and the DO NOTHING House is once again trying to DO NOTHING.