Senate approves $109B highway bill, raising pressure on Boehner, House

The Senate on Wednesday approved a $109 billion transportation bill that would fund road and transit projects for the next two years.

The bipartisan 74-22 vote puts pressure on Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase Facebook execs to meet with GOP leaders over concerns about anti-conservative bias Boehner: Federal government should not interfere in recreational marijuana decisions MORE (R-Ohio) and the House to either pass a transportation bill of their own or take up the Senate-approved version of the measure ahead of a March 31 deadline for the expiration of current highway funding.

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BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase Facebook execs to meet with GOP leaders over concerns about anti-conservative bias Boehner: Federal government should not interfere in recreational marijuana decisions MOREs favored transportation bill is a five-year, $260 billion measure that would pay for infrastructure projects with revenue from new domestic oil-and-gas drilling. His party has been divided on the measure, and Boehner has suggested he could move to the Senate bill if he cant win over his conference. 

But its not clear that the Senate bill would win support from Boehners conference either. 

In the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed the highway bill as bipartisan and a victory for the country.


“This is a jobs bill; 2.8 million jobs hang in the balance, Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (D-Calif.) said in the minutes leading up to the final vote.

Committee ranking member James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump ‘not happy about certain things’ involving Pruitt The Hill's Morning Report — Can the economy help Republicans buck political history in 2018? GOP senator floats Pruitt's resignation MORE (R-Okla.) added: Ive always said conservatives should be big spenders in two areas: national defense and infrastructure. We have to look at the future so we dont have to go through this again.

The vote Wednesday culminated five weeks of debate about amendments to the transportation bill that had threatened to halt the measures quick progress toward passage in the upper chamber. An agreement was reached between Democratic and Republican leaders to prevent gridlock on the transportation bill from being permanent.

Weve had some scuffles along the way, but thats what the Senate is all about, Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDanny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary McConnell cements his standing in GOP history American people want serious legislators who collaborate across party lines MORE (D-Nev.) said of the amendment process on the transportation bill.

Sometimes the rules of the Senate demand scuffle, Reid said in the final minutes before the final vote on the transportation measure. We now have a bill that will pass.

Reid called Wednesday morning for Boehner to act quickly on the bill, and the wide margin of the final Senate vote to approve the legislation might increase pressure on the House to act quickly on the transportation bill when it comes over from the upper chamber.

“[Boehner] indicated that he likely would take up the Senate bill, Reid said. I hope that in fact is the case.

There were many differences between the two chambers respective original versions of the transportation measure. The House bill that has since been pulled from consideration would have spent $260 billion over the next five years on transportation projects, while the Senate bill spends $109 billion over the next two years. The Houses original bill also included provisions to tie infrastructure spending to increased domestic oil drilling and included cuts to public transportation funding that were unpopular with Democrats — and some Republicans — in both chambers of Congress.

The Senates measure funds transportation projects from traditional sources such as the federal gas tax, which the legislation reauthorizes the collection of, as well as closing of tax loopholes backers said would generate about $10 billion.

The House now has two-and-a-half weeks to act before the current legislation authorizing transportation funding expires.  

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.