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

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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.

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. burilsmith

    A chamber of Congress failed to act on an impending bill, how is that a surprise? It has been the norm for almost 6 years.

    July 30, 2014 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  2. Grrrrrr Not Again

    I'd bet my rainy day fund that the bickering and disputes are about all the little riders buried in each version of the bill, nothing to do with actual road engineering.

    July 30, 2014 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  3. Jim Zarkos

    We've seen how "forcing Congress" to do something at a later date works. Hmm, sequestration ring a bell?

    July 30, 2014 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  4. JimInNM

    Close the roads and bridges. Get off the Federal dole. Disrupt drug and illegal traffic.

    July 30, 2014 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  5. Megan

    You know we should have lots of money for highways, defense, border security, and other infrastructure projects if our government expansion was not so out of control. We now have healthcare, crazy climate change ideas, and new border issues thanks to Obama's new open borders policies. We are turning into Europe and its going to get worse.

    July 30, 2014 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  6. paul

    i hope they stop all highway repair for a while. They have been creating problems just to give tickets anyway it seems to raise revenue across our bankrupt country, and the REAL projects they are working on never get completed anyway.

    July 30, 2014 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  7. kinjirurm

    At least we can tell this isn't a serious issue, you can tell by all the puns.

    July 30, 2014 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  8. Sandvichmancer

    Anyone else feel like these politicians need an 8 hour workday, five day work week, with sick and vacation days alloted plus an extra vacation day for each year employed just like the rest of us?

    July 30, 2014 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  9. Frank

    This is money that was supposed to go to the nearly 4 million long-term unemployed. It was stolen by the republicans and signed off by Obama. So much for help for struggling families.

    July 30, 2014 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
  10. nemo0037

    Why do we keep these losers on the job? We need a GOVERNMENT, not political clownsmanship. If this country can't pay for its own upkeep, it will fall apart. Raise the gas tax to the level that will pay for the infrastructure repairs and keep it tied to inflation. Or... cut some military spending that wasn't even requested by the Pentagon anyway, and use the money to build this country back up a bit. Or BOTH.

    July 30, 2014 02:56 am at 2:56 am |
  11. joe smith

    in other words, h. reid is looking for $$ to fund that train from ca. to Nevada..why no media exposure on this pork??

    July 30, 2014 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  12. Marshall

    I recommend a special election. Nobody in congress is eligible to run, we must have all new people in congress!

    July 30, 2014 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  13. Joe

    Wholly molly what a bunch of complete fools. They cant even pass a bill everyone agrees on. What can these morons do. They all put politics before country at all times. No one wants to be in the middle because then something might get done. It is either far left or far right. People that live here are really more to the middle. Not all conservatives want to punish the poor and believe they are all freeloaders and not all liberals hate guns and want to do nothing but ban guns and magazines and require urine samples to but shells for deer season. People want affordable good health care people want a safety net for when your down on your luck and trying to get by to you can get on your feet. People want roads education and a chance to get ahead. People want a robust economy that works for us all and they want responsible spending and we can have that but people have to put the country before parties and move toward the middle and really fairly compromise and be open to doing so. Until we demand this from these idiots we will have nothing and our country will decline and rot from within.

    July 30, 2014 04:57 am at 4:57 am |
  14. John

    Politics at work. It is all a game, and these people need to go.

    July 30, 2014 05:48 am at 5:48 am |
  15. jonline

    Why can't these people do their jobs and fund the government? Why is this such political showmanship? Why is this all short term fixes?

    July 30, 2014 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  16. NewIdeas

    This is all about Senators who are up for re-election trying to make a statement to their state constituents.

    For the Republicans, they didn't want to appear as "obstructionists" with the Senate bills. And for the Democrats, they're just trying to make Boehner deal with their version and dare him to not pass it. Harry Reid will claim Boehner shutdown the government again.

    It's Reid who is playing the finger-pointing blame game with this move rather than present the House bill for an up/down vote in the Senate.

    July 30, 2014 06:02 am at 6:02 am |
  17. ken2112

    It is amazing that the senate Republicans and Democrates can at least find some common ground to get things done where as the House Republicans can't even agree with each other and even attack their own party,

    July 30, 2014 06:03 am at 6:03 am |
  18. Sid Airfoil

    “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.”

    So once again the GOP-controlled House will NOT negotiate, even when a bill has passed the Senate with much GOP support. The Tea Party really has gone off the deep end.


    July 30, 2014 06:17 am at 6:17 am |
  19. Big_d

    The GOP won't pass without a provision to steal retirement funds?

    July 30, 2014 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  20. hatenapa

    This will require the GOP House to actually do some work, which is not going to happened. The highway bill is dead.

    July 30, 2014 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  21. BO

    No surprise hete that the dem senate is mucking up the works again. Vote GOP on November 4. Enough is enough.

    July 30, 2014 06:35 am at 6:35 am |
  22. jnpa

    “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.”

    Well, that just proves that Boehner and the GOP in the House are the obstructionists. They obviously have the same attitude as their tea party buddies, "our way or the highway", and then everyone wonders why the president can't get anything done. Give it up GOP!

    July 30, 2014 06:36 am at 6:36 am |
  23. Drew Jackson

    Why in the world does everything in Congress have to be done with so much drama and intrigue? As a citizen and voter in this country I can tell you that I've had enough of the nonsense.

    July 30, 2014 06:46 am at 6:46 am |
  24. humtake

    Wow CNN, you are really outdoing yourselves these days. If the main topic had been the House didn't vote on passing the Bill the headline would have been, "REPS DESTROYING AMERICA!! REP OBSTRUCTIONISM OUT OF CONTROL!!!!!". But since it was the Senate who blocked the measure from passing, then it's alright and everything is going as normal.

    The only transparancy Obama has brought about is how easy it is to see the Liberal controlled presses. We all know Fox never hides their allegiance, but outlets like CNN try to say they are neutral yet they continue to expose themselves by articles like this.

    July 30, 2014 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  25. liz

    They need to stop playing games which is all this is

    July 30, 2014 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
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