Senate Highway Bill Dodges Potholes
Long weekend leads into a long week for highway bill on Capitol Hill Photo: David Cullen
As of late Sunday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had managed to steer the multi-year highway bill introduced in the chamber just last week beyond some legislative potholes that had threatened to seriously slow the process of getting the measure over to the House for quick consideration.
Attempts by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to amend the highway bill to address highly divisive— and completely unrelated— issues, including repealing Obamacare, placing conditions on removing sanctions against Iran and defunding Planned Parenthood, went down in flames on Sunday.
The most headline-grabbing of these, the largely symbolic attack on the Affordable Care Act, fell short of the 60 votes needed to move the measure forward.
On the other hand, an amendment calling for the somewhat controversial re-chartering of the Export-Import Bank was easily approved, preventing another monkey wrench from coming into play. The Senate voted 67-26 to end debate on a measure to add language reauthorizing the bank.
However, once the Senate does pass the bipartisan DRIVE Act (S.1647), co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) – and championed by Sen. McConnell – it will still have to bridge the biggest roadblock in its path.
That’s acceptance of its multi-year design by the House, which remains committed to seeing the five-month patch it passed on July 15 become law.
The contention of House transportation leaders is that a short-term extension of surface-transportation authorization will afford Congress the time required to put together a more comprehensive multi-year bill.
For example, as reported by Politico.com, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, told reporters on Thursday that the Senate bill was far less than it may seem, especially in the eyes of House members: "It’s not really a long-term bill,” DeFazio said. “This is essentially a status quo bill with two or three years of funding. That’s no huge improvement.”
To be sure, there will be furious politicking on Capitol Hill this week to get some kind of highway legislation passed— be it a multi-year highway bill or a multi-month extension— by Friday, when the funding authority for federal highway projects runs out... yet again.