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. crabman1

    come on really

    July 30, 2014 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  2. Clay

    Get that whiskey, bourbon burnt drunk Boehner out of congress so that things can get done. That crying rotten yellow tooth magot is sickening .

    July 30, 2014 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  3. Tom Bukowski

    Congress is a bunch self-serving schmucks. Useless and not working. Try doing something for the nation, not yourselves.

    July 30, 2014 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  4. Anonymous

    Of course this is the Republicans in the Houses obstructionist tactics..

    July 30, 2014 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  5. expatriot

    Why does it take to the last minute for these numb skulls to do anything? Why isn't are government more pro-active and less reactive? Finally, it has become a sad state of affairs when the Federal government can't even pass funding for roads. Almost a basic necessity in this country.

    July 30, 2014 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  6. Qurph

    A glimmer of "governing" with D's and R's actually talking with each other – whet's next dogs and cats getting together?

    July 30, 2014 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  7. Common Sense

    The only reason bills are passed with short term provisions is so that legislators can go back to the donors repeatedly to raise money. It is a give me money or the other side may get this legislation passed, give me money or I can't stand up to the other side and the legislation won't pass. Except for money and power there should be no reason not to have laws or funding long term rather then expiring every few months.

    July 30, 2014 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  8. onesimpleman

    Highway Trust Fund – yeah right, it is called the General Fund, and money collected in taxes for the highways has already been spent . . at least 2 or three times.

    July 30, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  9. retiredtothecountry

    As usual, nothing will get done! The republicrooks are too determined to ensure that nothing good ever gets done during the Obama administration and besides, they are too busy trying to figure out how to accomplish the wishes of their corporate criminal masters and the big banksters!

    A five week vacation in the summer along with the usual three-day work week they do the rest of the year is ridiculous enough. Not even trying to do your job before you abandon it for the summer should be enough for all of them to get voted out. They are becoming like France. Everyone goes on vacation for the whole month of August!

    July 30, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  10. TomInRochNY

    Typical GOP, my way or nothing.

    July 30, 2014 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  11. KellyF

    Not sure what "pension smoothing" has to do with highway repair but it just goes to show you that this Congress will stop at NOTHING to take even more money out of the pockets of average Americans in favor of fattening an already bloated wealthy crop.

    July 30, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  12. John

    They can't even agree on something they both agree on.

    July 30, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  13. Buckshotdaman

    This is exactly what we need; more inaction and drama. (sarcasm intended) Remember this at the polls.

    July 30, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  14. Paul Cooper

    You see? All this talk about Harry Reid's Senate not being able to come together and do something is flat out false. When they really want to, they can still screw things up just fine.

    July 30, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  15. kerrypenn49

    The Democrat Party revolves around and its philosophy is based on Lies and Deceptions.

    July 30, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    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.
    I would guess that that would be a non-starter for the "Tax Evading Americans" Party.

    July 30, 2014 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  17. Jean Sartre

    "Pension smoothing" as a means of funding infrastructure?

    Yes, this fits in well with the TP/GOP plan to defund and ultimately eliminate pensions completely; Christie has all but done that for New Jersey.

    But then, why do the workers need a pension anyway?

    July 30, 2014 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  18. snowdogg

    "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."

    Wow... really good news. Our Senate "at work"... NOT!

    July 30, 2014 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  19. Nadim

    We have children running our government and our country – be they Republican, Democrat, or otherwise. Why can't they work together for the better of the country – USA.

    July 30, 2014 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  20. Rosslaw

    I heard House republicans considered a bridge repair bill with a provision repealing the law of gravity. I don't think they quite grasp the concept here.

    July 30, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  21. Alex

    Just raise the gas tax to fund it. Th gas tax has not been raised in over 20 years... inflation has eaten into it. Get the people that use the roads to pay for the roads.

    July 30, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  22. Jason

    Can we establish a Senate Unamerican Activities Committee? Then we could call Boehner, and maybe the entire House before them. The House has been screwing ALL OF US for awhile now. Tongue in cheek, but seriously, do something decent for the country. Worst House Ever!

    July 30, 2014 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  23. Joe

    Pfft. What did highways and bridges ever get us anyway. I'm fine with my horse and buggy!

    July 30, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  24. mucklucky

    I say we cut the Highway funding by at least 1/3. Every time I pass a work site on the road, there are always a couple of people working and twice as many standing around.

    July 30, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  25. Riggznit

    Or we could take only 50 billion off the defense budget and pass 1 billion to each state and bailout the people. Stop funding foreign countries with "aide" money for one year when the economy gets going again people get back to work that pays adequate wages then we can discuss spending money on extra curriculur "democratic" activities.

    July 30, 2014 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
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