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. beverly

    why cant congress get things done? Because republicans vowed to knock down any and all that The President tried to do which would encluded his parties efforts. God forbid they do what is really best for our country. I never disliked the repulican party. Just never cared for their views. Now i hate them. On a further note: killing one pweson is murder, killing thousands is war,killing 35 at a time is terrorism, over 100 shot in an US City in just two weekends is...a politian lining is pockets to stay in office a.k.a power thru supporting thru votes gun uncontrol legislation. The republican parites thruout our land have all the shootings in our land on their bloodied hands.

    July 30, 2014 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  2. Rogue351

    Once again the GOP congress are doing NOTHING. Yet they expect you to elect more of them. To what end ? The elected offical does nothing and gets a free ride on your tax dollars. They have adopted the thininking that YOU will not vote THEM out of office. THEY think that because they are the GOP, the so called side of "freedom" YOU will not vote them out. Proven them wrong and take back our congress and elect people that will actually work and do the right thing instead of fighting about garbage that is holding America back. How about we take away their healthcare, half of their pay and all of their retirerment ? Then see if they will do there jobs. Get these GOP Bums out of office.

    July 30, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  3. guest

    "We wont pass a bill unless it highlights the fact that middle wage workers must tote the bill for companies in every way imaginable, we must force better profit margins for our buddies no matter what." – House Repubs

    July 30, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  4. stewart

    VOTE every sitting member out. They have proved useless over the last 4 years. but I am willing to bet that 99% will get reelected thus proving the American voter is insane. keep reelecting the idiots and expecting something to change

    July 30, 2014 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  5. Tone


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

    July 30, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |

    I don't know if you are serious or just being sarcastic? i will wait until you answer, and then i will respond.

    July 30, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  6. Rick

    How soon we forget the unnecessary and embarrassing tragedy of the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota. US citizens lost their lives and they still play bipartisan games? Be kind to the unkind and lost. They need it the most.

    July 30, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  7. Lizzie

    Of course this is the Republicans in the Houses obstructionist
    -nice, the SENATE under HARRY REID changes the bill,( he does not want it on the floor for a vote) and you blame the HOUSE for being an obstructionist.

    July 30, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  8. WorkingClassJoe

    I agree. Since the Repubs and Teabaggers have convinced us that the Federal Gov't is evil incarnate in all its forms (wastes taxpayer money, filled with corruption, lazy workers), let's disband the United States of America and let the almighty good and righteous states run everything! We can all say goodbye to the do-nothing Congress and the latest demonized President. We can also say goodbye to federal income taxes and the welfare state! I'm sure the Military Industrial Complex is big enough now to provide our defense without insidious intrusion from federal bureaucrats. And everybody will be happy and successful, because totally free markets will "lift everyone's boats." It will be a virtual land of "milk and honey," just like the bible says!

    July 30, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  9. Lizzie

    Once again the GOP congress are doing NOTHING.
    - just like every democratic minion blame the republicans for HARRY REIDs democratic senate of obstruction

    July 30, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  10. heyjoe1

    EVERYTHING this President and his party touches is criminal or turns to garbage. I cannot wait to get a new group of responsible people in the White House and DC. What a travesty the American people have to put up with this for eight years.

    July 30, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  11. Country Concerned

    Eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act and let's go forward with construction. The unions have to get booted out of controlling all highway construction projects.

    July 30, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  12. Andrew Friet

    A lot of you M O R O N S are critical of congress but it is the SENATE holding this one up. Harry Reid is as much of an obstructionist as John Bohner.

    July 30, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  13. Trooth

    How can so many people read this story and blame the GOP House? The GOP House sent a bill to the Senate, the Senate is delaying. This happens many times, and all the mouth breeders can do is chant a mantra blaming the GOP.

    July 30, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  14. mikefl

    Time and Time again the Senate and Congress refuse to do their jobs. Why are these people still in office ? PURE APATHY and Ignorance on the American Voters behalf. I would be FIRED if my performance was as bad as the politicians we have in office. We have no one but ourselves to blame. I plan to vote every incumbent out for the next 2-3 elections, maybe if we all did this, Politicians would do the will of the voters. Maybe that will cure their arrogance. WAKE UP AMERICA Republican and Democrats and all other voters/Parties. If you complain and don't vote, then be quiet or get out and vote. If you do vote then lets get these BUMS out of office.

    July 30, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  15. Daniel

    We need more people from Europe not spanish people . People who have culture,education and can easy adapt in american society.Most important people who will contribute in american economy.

    July 30, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  16. Rudy NYC


    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.
    The blatantly obvious makes too much sense. The biggest problem is that there has arisen a faction of anarchistic regressives from the far right wing within the Republican Party, who have signed sworn pledges to NEVER raise taxes of any kind, not under any circumstance. They place higher allegiance to a lobbyist than they do their oaths of office. There's something that's fundamentally not right about that, and it could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution concerning members of Congress swearing allegiance to foreign nations, which could also include lobbyists for special interests.

    July 30, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  17. grumpy0ldman

    The clowns are running this circus.

    July 30, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  18. Jim

    once again the Senate plays circle jerk politcs. Same old Senate do nothing, and the bidding of the White House. Jerks Can't wait for Nov.

    July 30, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  19. aaron

    This election year old people are the Repub's new targets for demonization. The only reason they put the bill through in the first place was to allow corporations not to live up to their obligations for funding pensions. Christie is trying to do the same thing in NJ with pensions for public employees. They don't care if we have roads to drive on, just so the rich don't have to pay taxes or live up to their obligations.

    July 30, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  20. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    stewart says:
    July 30, 2014 09:40 am at 9:40 am
    VOTE every sitting member out. They have proved useless over the last 4 years. but I am willing to bet that 99% will get reelected thus proving the American voter is insane. keep reelecting the idiots and expecting something to change

    Agreed. However in their defense (the voters) hatred and envy are powerful motivators. And the GOP has tripled down on those since 2008.

    July 30, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  21. ivan

    November is coming but will anyone care enough to use their vote to actually make a difference? I am guessing NO.

    July 30, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  22. billd

    Again it looks like the House Of Reps under Boehner will make the American commuter and worker suffer.

    July 30, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  23. 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!

    July 30, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  24. 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.

    July 30, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  25. Rudy NYC


    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!
    Man, have you got it backwards. The pension provision is designed to protect pensions, dude. Read the article.

    July 30, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
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