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. Tosa Brown

    The GOP will do anything to obstruct even if it means not funding highways. They still can't come to terms of having a black president.

    July 30, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  2. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Chris..E.Al says:
    July 29, 2014 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm
    Old yeller you should come up with something new turn the page or something it gets old reading the same old same old bad ideals and the same post your co op would be a plus ?

    This has to be one of the funniest comments I've read all month. Chris maybe you should take your own advice. Ol'Yeller posts facts with a little humor thrown in the mix while Chris on the other hand spouts GOP talking points that most of the time don't even make sense. Hilarious. You gotta love the red staters. Sure let's remove science from school but add target practice.

    July 30, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  3. StevenR

    Raise the gas tax, for cripes sake. What the heck is so hard about that?

    July 30, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  4. conoclast

    Is the word "investment" now totally gone from the tea party lexicon? These guys ARE republicans, are they not??

    July 30, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  5. Rob

    Its sad that we can send billions over seas at the drop of a hat but cant fix our own problems. If these people are voted back in office, we did this ourselves. We need to send them ALL home packing!

    July 30, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  6. Anonymous

    "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" – you mean the way that having a firm deadline for the "Budget Supercommittee" to act prevented a Sequester? Oh, wait...

    July 30, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Gunderson

    Highway's Going to pot?,
    With the Liberal agenda permeating the country the movers and shakers voted for food stamps and welfare over roads and bridges. ... blah .... blah ... blah ...
    ------------------------------
    As usual, you're letting common sense blind you to the obvious. ALL funding bills must originate in the House. If no votes have been taken up on a highway bill before now, guess who's fault it is. It would be the fault of the House.

    July 30, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  8. Don

    "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" – you mean the way that having a firm deadline forced the "Budget Supercommittee" to come up with a deal that prevented the Sequester? Oh, wait...

    July 30, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  9. rs

    Lizzie

    Rogue351
    Once again the GOP congress are doing NOTHING.
    – just like every democratic minion blame the republicans for HARRY REIDs democratic senate of obstruction
    ___________________________
    And the 541 GOP Senate filibusters? The secret holds on judiciary and agency head nominations? What about the 25% of nations around the world without American Ambassadors (like RUSSIA for example)? Have any thoughts on that?
    The GOP is the greatest threat to the future of America this nation has ever faced.

    July 30, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  10. Rudy NYC

    Frank

    We should vote all of these Rich old folks out of office and vote people in that can really get something done for our country. We can't keep reelecting these idiots and expect for things to change!
    -------------------------------------------–
    What you describe is exactly what the people from the "Tax Evading Americans" Party call themselves doing.

    July 30, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  11. Longtimer

    The GOP is so used to not accomplishing anything, or actually working for the people they so desperately want to be elected by that they can no long even function in their highly paid government jobs.
    Can you say "under-achieving welfare queens"?

    July 30, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  12. Calcommuter

    "Pension smoothing" measure added to the highway bill. just so the republicans can once again sneak in something for their corporate bosses into a totally unrelated bill. Of course the Senate wants it gone. Boehner and his party refuses to work for the American people. They only work for "small business" like Exxon, coal, Wall Street....

    July 30, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  13. TomGI

    The tea party has said on many occasions they want to "hollow out" the budgets of many federal agencies including the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. Effectively gutting the fund and killing the few badly needed infrastructure programs underway or in the schedule for 2015-2016.

    July 30, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. FLIndy

    This is a perfect example of why the House Repubs mantra of "we've passed many bills" is hogwash. Whenver they do "pass" anything of importance to the country it is almost never a clean bill and has corporate incentives attached to it or other such nonsense that they know the Democratic controlled Senate will never pass. This House majority will NEVER write a bill that benefits the citizens of this country unless they are among the 1%.

    July 30, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  15. william fitzwater

    Senate Surprise sounds like some sort of bad cake ...

    July 30, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  16. Thom

    I bet the House and Senate had no problem getting together on giving themselves a raise and more benefits early each session.

    July 30, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  17. rs

    Gunderson

    Highway's Going to pot?,
    With the Liberal agenda permeating the country the movers and shakers voted for food stamps and welfare over roads and bridges. Corporations are moving Offshore and the Tax Base is going to hell in a (Liberal) Hand basket. Just today the Senate is trying to pass a bill to bring companies back to the U.S. by adjusting taxes on the Corporations. BUT!, They don't trust the Liberal's!!! Better pack a lunch, this is going to take a while.
    _____________________
    Meanwhile the Right raises your cost of living- you lose time on damaged highways, and are stuck in traffic. Your car eats tires and ball joints and shock absorbers. And, just for fun, once in awhile a bunch of Americans get killed when the bridge falls out from beneath them. But hey- idiots like you are cool with that right? What, because public roads are "Socialist"?

    July 30, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  18. Pete

    The Democrats running the Senate decide to totally change the bill sent by the Republican run House. No party politics here. Of course, the Senate doesn't want to make everyone think the Republicans have the answer to anything, so they will obstruct this spending bill and blame it on the Republicans.

    July 30, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. Norm

    Don't raise taxes as some feel that is always the solution. Someone has a list of projects and the phase they are in. If construction is underway alllow that to continue and put on hold something that is still in the planning stages. Shift the funds. That's how it works in the real world. If you stop something in construction phase you will incure additional costs to demobilize and remobilize the contractors. It is not hard to work around these issues.

    July 30, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  20. JoeSunCity

    Its sad that we can send billions over seas at the drop of a hat but cant fix our own problems. If these people are voted back in office, we did this ourselves. We need to send them ALL home packing!
    -----------------
    Rob, that is a simple but inncorrect solution. You need to look at the record of what your congress person is doing. If they are actually trying to pass things that help the American people, then you need to vote them back in. If they are playing games and not helping, then vote them out.
    Just voting out everyone without looking at their record, could cause you to vote out a good one and replace them with a fool.

    July 30, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  21. asta dog

    Gosh.... follks love to joke when Pres. Obama plays golf......

    I hope you are aware that congress will only be in session to 130 days this year...... work 1/3 of a year? I guess that must be why they can......... NOT get anything done. Not like they are money grabbing slackers that could give a scat less about you and your children......

    July 30, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Kelly

    What do Congressmen care about roads? Don't they just fly around on jets anyway? An occasional bumpy freeway trip to the constituents once a year really isn't that high a price to pay for...whatever it is they're trying to prove.

    July 30, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. asta dog

    BTW..... about time for you folks to learn the use of
    There....
    Their....
    They're

    Might even want to cogitate on YOU..... or maybe........ past, present and future.

    July 30, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. Rudy NYC

    Pete

    The Democrats running the Senate decide to totally change the bill sent by the Republican run House. No party politics here. Of course, the Senate doesn't want to make everyone think the Republicans have the answer to anything, so they will obstruct this spending bill and blame it on the Republicans.
    ------------------------
    Obviously, you have no clue what the meaning of the phrase "regular order" means.

    July 30, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  25. J RUss

    I believe when the suggestion is made to eliminate the federal highway fund there is also a proposal for the states to individually collect what amount they see fit to maintain their own infrastructure. Does it make any sense to take a dollar from your pocket, launder it through DC and then return $ 0.75 back to you? Why shoudl the federal government be involved in highway construction?

    July 30, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
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