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. Christian_Grey

    Pound the GOP LMAO...it's always their fault

    July 30, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  2. etaglio

    It's perplexing that the GOP would block funding of a trust fund signed into law by their own Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower (a great American) in 1956.

    Given our country's thirst for military spending (except for the VA arm, of course), it would be perfect if we tied all highway funding to military funding. Want to buy more planes and tanks? Then you automatically have to set aside a third of that sum to support the country's internal infrastructure. If we did that, the highway trust fund would be flush with cash and we'd be driving on roads as smooth as sea-packed sand.

    July 30, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    I'm surprised the House didn't add a ban on funding to Planned Parenthood to the bill like they usually do to all of the JOBS bills that they have past.

    We need to change from a per gallon gas tax to a per mile use tax. The current funding approach means that as cars become more efficient our roads are taken care of less.

    July 30, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  4. asta dog

    HEY JOE.... Sun City....

    How can the average voter tell the difference between a money grabbin lobbyist sucking KOCH bros representative and that FOOL you were talking about. Bad this is..... we will vote for the fool...... or ..... at least we hope so. Well.... we have a clear cut choice...... Which ORIFICE do you wish to get fugged..... So nice of congress to give us CHOICE...... BUT.... not on everything..... like abortion, marriage or legal marijuana...... We have private prisons to support you know.....

    July 30, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  5. shootmyownfood

    I find it odd that some folks here think that states should foot the bill for INTERSTATE federal highways. Just sayin' . . .

    July 30, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  6. Clyde

    I just don't get it.
    Why is everyone so afraid to actually pass the greatly needed long term solution and not waste time playing with one year extensions and 5 month extensions? Just who do they think they are benefiting by not properly funding the reconstruction of 100,000 miles of highways, along with their bridges and tunnels? It certainly isn't the American people.

    July 30, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  7. asta dog

    Hey Shootmyownfood.....

    I agree.... every truck should stop at the state line and off load for an INTRA-state truck. Who needs the interstate...... Gosh I can think of one.... WALMART.......

    July 30, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  8. KISS

    Again the Congress passes a bill that the Senate wants to change...both houses have to agree on a comprimise. The house says no changes, the senate says these changes should be made. This is why we have gridlock neither house wants to give in, you can blame it on both parties to do nothing. Harry Reid shoud be voted out just as Boehner should be. Start over with new blood every four years. Of course this will never happen.

    July 30, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  9. Yakobi

    How typical of the scoundrel Harry Reid to attach an amendment to a highway bill that has nothing to do with highway funding, yet he continues to block all amendments from republicans and any meaningful legislation from the House.

    It will be a glorious day when the republicans retake the majority in the Senate and send obstructionist Reid packing just like Nancy Pelosi!

    July 30, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. Clyde

    Obviously Sniffin O'Buns in Tampa while gargling

    Obama can demand $4 Billion for illegal immigrants, yet he won't fix the US's failing infrastructure?
    ----------------------------------------–

    Thank you for playing "I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about and I don't care who knows".
    Obama has been begging for Congress to come up with a plan for massive infrastructure replacement and repair since he's been in office. Congress has refused to pass any sort of long term highway bill for just as long.
    Obama can't just do whatever he wants, Congress has to authorize spending and funding.
    Same thing with immigration reform and the current border crisis. The House refuses to even take up immigration, leaving us with an insufficient number of immigration judges to work through the years long backlog of over 600,000 cases. Congress passed a law in 2008 that says we can't just send these kids back and now that same Congress is screaming (well part is anyway) to send them all back right now, without the benefit of a hearing. And the 2008 law? It wasn't just passed along a party line, it passed both houses by unanimous votes. They all voted FOR it, and now half of them are against the very law they voted for. Well, that is those who are still in Congress after 2 wave elections.

    July 30, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. Old_Hippie

    Time to tax miles driven instead of the fuel used to drive those miles. Trucking companies put the most wear and tear on our highways so they will have to foot a larger part of the expense. That would get passed onto the consumers by higher prices for goods, but that is just economics. Taxing gas is a losing venture as MPG keeps on rising.

    July 30, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. Malory Archer

    Yakobi
    How typical of the scoundrel Harry Reid to attach an amendment to a highway bill that has nothing to do with highway funding, yet he continues to block all amendments from republicans and any meaningful legislation from the House.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Yeah, except that's not at all what he did. From the article:

    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.

    That's right Yako – it was a BI-PARTISAN bill created by BOTH sides of the aisle that holds the house rethugs' feet to the fire and FORCES them to do SOMETHING PERMANENT PRIOR TO NOVEMBER ELECTIONS. See, reading really IS fundamental!

    July 30, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  13. Al

    So this year it will be the highways that the Federal Government will order it's police forces around the nation to close down, remember last year they were ordered to shutdown access to Veterans of WWII from going to the WWII memorial, thanks Joe and your Democrats, have to make it out worst than it really is. The solution for roads is simple, put up toll roads.

    July 30, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  14. CrashMan

    “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.”

    That's what Boehner calls "negotiating". How about putting it to the floor for a vote first?

    July 30, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  15. Thomas

    Boehner and friends are already packed and ready for some rest and relaxation .

    Have a great vacation , take your time , enjoy .

    Don't choke on any golf balls !

    July 30, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  16. Big_D

    “pension smoothing” Sounds a lot like a GOP corporate handout to allow the theft of retirement accounts, legally.

    July 30, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  17. A. Bijsterbosch

    Goodluck with getting Boehner away from golf and wine. The orange man wouldn't know work if it bit him in posterior

    July 30, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  18. ted

    the problem with these bills is that a lot of crap gets attached that has nothing to do with the subject of the bill. all these clowns want pork pork pork.

    July 30, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. sly

    All laws helping American infra-structure will be vetoed by Republicans.

    The stated goal of Republicans is to 'Shut Down American Government'.

    It was well publicized last year by the leaders of the Republican party. Nothing has changed, trust me!

    July 30, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  20. notogop

    The citizens of this country need to fully understand what "pension smoothing" really is. The media does a very poor job of explaining the guts of this House bill.

    July 30, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  21. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Now now Mallory and Clyde, the GOPT supporters could care less about facts. All they know is to cry, whine, stomp their feet and lie through their teeth. (The ones that have them that is.) Don't you know everything is President Obama's fault??!

    July 30, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  22. Big_D

    Why does the GOP insist on a corporate handout to be hidden in every unrelated bill? This is about highway funding you damn corporate thieves!

    July 30, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. Big_D

    “pension smoothing” sound like a GOP euphemism for allowing companies to steal pensions without going to jail. They should call it Bain investment in retirement theft provision.

    July 30, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  24. Johnkc

    Why do republicans want to include a pension reduction bill for big business in the highway bill? More pork for their big business buddiers. The Senate should hold the line, while these House jokers take another month vacation supplied and paid for by the taxpayers!

    July 30, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  25. cary fujita

    "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."
    Wow, I had no idea it was now legal for the government to dictate how much a private company spends on its employees retirements.

    July 30, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
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