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. John

    And this ladies and gentlement is another example of how the Tea Party is causing gridlock. The Republicans who don't even agree with them are so cowardly that they have got to be removed also.

    July 30, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  2. CosmicC

    Wow, it's almost as if the Senate is functional. Of course, they need to answer to state-wide constituencies, not gerry-mandered district boundaries that drive the House.
    It would be nice if we could return to our historic roots in which the Senate, "upper chamber", was seen as the more mature and had a bit more power than the unruly House.

    July 30, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  3. Michael Carr

    I would love to hear about how the two versions of the bill are substantially different, other than the timelines. Who does "pension smoothing" affect and how much money will it cost the retiree's? Are there any real differences in which States get how much money of for how long? Does either bill have riders attached that have nothing to do with infrastructure improvements? Are their any restrictions in either version that specify how the money can or cannot be spent? Are there any matching funds from the States required in either bill? You know, information. Just bare facts without the political commentary or gamesmanship. I think they used to call it reporting the news. Try reading a news paper from 100 years ago. It's amazing how much more sophisticated the writing was.

    July 30, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  4. korkea aika

    "pension smoothing" sounds like a euphemism for 'jipping' the working class out of their retirement. The idea of some people is that everyone should be an investor and make their money betting on the stockmarket. But then there would be no workers to do the work. OK, they say, who cares. If you're stupid enough to be a worker, then we can assume we can also ensure that you don't take any money into retirement too. Great game and there are always republicans who will reach for it.

    July 30, 2014 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  5. keven

    Leave to the idiots in the House to add a pension provision to a highway bill !
    They'll try ANYTHING to screw the working man!

    July 30, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  6. I do not

    Sooooo, this is a story to say that there isn't really a story yet, but here is some backdrop for the story that might be in a couple days?

    July 30, 2014 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  7. Qi

    Job killing socialist roads should be closed. We did fine with horses....

    July 30, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  8. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    BLAME the GOP AGAIN for THEIR TOTAL FAILURE ON EVERYTHING , and you think your going to be RELECTED ?????? Even republican voters aren't DUMB ENOUGH to vote for constant FAILURE, SEE YOU AT the polls GOP !!!!!

    July 30, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  9. The Big T

    Can we PLEASE FIRE them ALL and start over with people who will actually WORK to get something accomplished?
    Both parties are at fault and completely IGNORE the American people.

    July 30, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  10. The Truth Rules

    "...the Senate surprised many inside and out of the chamber by overwhelming changing a House highway plan that some had considered a fait accompli." No surprise there. In November these non-performing incompetents will find themselves out on their ear.

    July 30, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  11. Pandamonius

    Stripping the pension smoothing out is good, but giving this a December deadline is just silly. How many times now have we seen something given a short deadline so that "They have to come up with a permanent solution and no one can punt it down the road again".........only to have the deadline arrive and be "punted" again?

    If they can extend a deadline, then there's no reason they can't fix the thing to begin with. Maybe if they'd spend less time trying to push through partisan legislation (both sides), they'd be able to get something done.

    July 30, 2014 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  12. JC

    Isn't so refreshing to see each half of congress finally working together to bully the other half. It's the most cooperation I've seen in either chamber in a long time but I think they're missing out on in the real concept of cooperation they should be working toward together and not against each other.

    July 30, 2014 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  13. iceload

    Our own collection of village idiots.

    July 30, 2014 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  14. mkuske

    The only reason the Dems in the Senate are doing this is that they know that come January, they will no longer hold the majority and would rather hold the issue hostage in the run-up to the holidays to get their way in a longer-term plan. Why ANY Republican went along with this ruse, I'll never know.

    July 30, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  15. mkuske

    The only reason the Dems in the Senate are doing this is that they know come January they will no longer be in the majority and they would rather hold the issue hostage during the run-up to the holiday season to get their way in a longer-term plan than to fund the agency into a more realistic time-frame for negotiating that longer-term deal. Why ANY Republican went along with this political ruse, I'll never know.

    July 30, 2014 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  16. Tim

    The Democrat – Harry Reid and his Senate cronies – continue to be obstructionists. They are unfit to govern.

    July 30, 2014 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  17. demfromsc

    Yet another example of the dysfunctional Republican House of Representatives, and another good reason for voters (I hope) to replace them with Democrats that will work for the good of the entire country!

    July 30, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  18. Booblay

    "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..."

    July 30, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  19. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    The GOP is TOTALLY TO BLAME for ALL INFERSTRUCTURE FAILURES for NoZt FUNDING THEM, ask LA???? Vote these GOP BUMS OUT in November . I can't think of even ONE reason to vote for the GOP , but plenty of reasons to vote AGAINEST THEM!!!!

    July 30, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  20. Garlyn

    The senate again delays the vote of a bill passed by the House. Where is the media outrage at the Senate holding the country hostage with purse string politics?

    July 30, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  21. Eddie Currents

    It must be admitted that this is something we sure don't see everyday – our Congress doing something? Like working on a bill? Wow, just imagine ....

    July 30, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  22. Eddie Currents

    It must be admitted that this is something we sure don't see everyday – our Cong ress doing something? Like working on a bill? Wow, just imagine ....

    July 30, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  23. John

    This article was so poorly written that it was painful to read. Time to look for a different career there Mr. Reporter.

    July 30, 2014 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  24. Norma Vessels

    You sneaky, low-life son of a guns. Yes, you Republicans in the House!

    July 30, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  25. acoach

    When is society going to realize; so many bridges, so many roads to maintain, build. When we are taxed to 'empty' we won't be able to own a vehicle, let alone eat. There aren't enough horses for every one. Maybe the entitled can ask uncle sam for one; do you think they will give you one of their .

    July 30, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
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