UPDATED -- An issue unrelated to transportation has prompted the House to declare the Senate highway bill (which has yet to win passage) dead on arrival.
The Senate bill, a six-year highway bill that actually only funds the first three years, would revive the expired Export-Import Bank. Because of that, reports The Hill, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Monday said the House will not vote on the Senate bill.
Instead, McCarthy says the Senate should take up the short-term House bill, yet another kick-the-can-down-the-road patch, this one for five months.
The Export-Import Bank is an 81-year-old institution that provides loan guarantees to help U.S. corporations sell goods overseas. Its charter expired on June 30. Conservatives say it's corporate welfare.
Nevertheless, the Senate voted to include the Export-Import Bank amendment Monday just hours after McCarthy's comments, leading GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas) to blast the Senate for "casting votes in favor of cronyism and special interests," reports Fox News.
The Senate also set aside a two-month extension of federal highway funding that had been offered as an amendment, effectively killing the proposal for now, reports The Hill, and moving the six-year bill forward.
The Senate bill is a bipartisan effort led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who helped broker a deal on the legislation, pointed to that bipartisan support in urging House lawmakers to take up the Senate bill.
“I am confident we will have this legislation ready for the House before the July 31 deadline," Inhofe said in a statement after the vote. "It is my hope that the House will reconsider taking up this bipartisan piece of legislation that gives long-term funding certainty for our nation’s highway system, the backbone of our economy."
The House leaves for August recess on Thursday. McCarthy said it's not fair for the Senate to send the House a 1,000-plus-page bill days before the July 31 funding deadline.
Boxer, however, said in response, "if we have a bill, we're sending it."
“You know what, we’re staying an extra week in August. You can stay an extra week in August," she said in a speech on the Senate floor, according to published reports. " That’s not such a terrible thing."
However, reports the Associated Press, McCarthy flatly told reporters, "We are set to depart on Thursday."
McConnell wants to get this legislation out of the way at least through next year's elections.
The Senate bill also contains a number of provisions affecting trucking beyond highways, such as allowing states to get together and create pilot programs to allow younger drivers to truck interstate, and addressing concerns with the Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement program.
Authority for federal highway aid payments to states will expire Friday at midnight if the highway program is not extended, as the balance in the Highway Trust Fund is projected to drop below the $4 billion minimum needed to keep money flowing to the states.
What fix Congress will find by the end of the week is unknown. One possibility is an even shorter-term extension than what the House passed.
Updated 9:20 a.m. EDT 7/27 to add actions taken late Monday evening.
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