Senate to vote on $109B highway bill

The Senate will hold the first floor vote on its $109 billion surface transportation bill Thursday, setting up the first test of Congress's appetite for a large spending bill at the beginning of an election year. 

Four Senate committees have approved the transportation package, which includes $9.6 billion in offsets from closing tax loopholes. 

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Senate Democrats have chosen to pay for the new transportation spending by closing tax loopholes to counter a House Republican proposal to tie new spending to revenue the federal government would gain from expanded domestic oil and gas drilling. The House is expected to vote on its version of the transportation bill next week. 

The Senate measure, which is scheduled to last for two years, is expected to get the 60 votes necessary for cloture, setting up a final vote on the bill next week. 

The House bill is broader and would cover five years of transportation spending. It's unclear whether House Republicans have the votes to get it approved.

The Senate is expected to open debate on the transportation bill at 11 a.m. The vote is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. 

Senators in both parties have voiced optimism that their bill will move forward. 

"All systems are a go to pass a bill that will respond to our transportation needs and ensure job creation,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement earlier this week after the Senate Finance Committee approved the tax provisions for the bill. 

"Today's progress is the culmination of the bipartisan efforts we have already seen in the Banking and Environment and Public Works committees, and I look forward to these efforts continuing on both sides of the aisle as we move forward," the ranking Republican on Boxer's commiittee, Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), said in a statement after the Finance vote.