Senators reach deal on highway bill

Francis Rivera

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR Congress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) and liberal stalwart Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Calif.) have reached a deal on a six-year highway funding bill.

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The deal would fund highways and federal infrastructure projects for three years, putting the burden on the next Congress to come up with funding for its second half.

“After months of discussion and a lot of cooperation from chairmen and ranking members, and staffs and members from both sides of the aisle, I’m happy to announce that Sen. Boxer and I have an agreement for a multi-year, bipartisan highway bill. We will now discuss that with our conferences at the lunches,” McConnell said.

He said a long-term highway bill “is in the best interest of our country” and thanked colleagues and staff on both sides of the aisle for working to put it together. 

McConnell and Boxer did not immediately provide details of their agreement.

Congress is facing an end-of-month deadline to address highway funding.

The House has passed a short-term measure that would extend federal funds for five months. House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has argued that this path would give negotiators time to work out a longer term bill. 

McConnell, however, wants to strike a deal now and prevent the issue from coming up again in 2016, when he hopes to help Republicans retain their Senate majority by highlighting a series of achievements. 

The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote on the measure at 4 p.m., but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his party may vote against that motion unless they have more time to review the bill.

"We're not going to vote on a bill we haven't seen. We'll vote on it but not favorably," Reid told reporters, urging McConnell to "postpone this vote."

The procedural motion has already been pushed back from 2:15 p.m. to give lawmakers time to review the deal.

Reid suggested that he would be "surprised" if Democrats support moving forward with the bill unless Republicans agree to further postpone the vote.

"I would think that most Democrats are going to want to read it first," he added. 

But Republican leadership showed no signs of being open to delaying the procedural vote.Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sought to pressure Democrats, who he said have been calling on Republicans to back a long-term bill. 
 
"Will see whether our Democratic allies... will take yes for an answer," he told reporters. 
 
Earlier on Tuesday, Reid expressed confidence in Boxer even as he said the rest of his conference needed time to consider the deal. 

“I hope we can have a long-term bill again but we can’t go forward on a bill until we’ve read it and until we’ve seen it and studied it,” he said. “I need to have a caucus.”

Boxer, the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the agreement will be posted Tuesday afternoon on the Internet so lawmakers and the public will have a chance to examine its details.

“I agree with Leader McConnell, we have an agreement in principle. I also agree with my leader, we’ve got to look at the details,” she said. “It’s my understanding that we’ll start to see that language momentarily."

Without a new highway funding bill by the end of the month, the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money for federal projects. The trust fund's main source of income is the federal gas tax, which has not been able to keep up with demand for projects as drivers have moved toward fuel-efficient cars. 

“I believe it is a breakthrough," Boxer said of the proposed deal. She then noted the the trust fund "goes bust in ten days.”

This story was updated at 3:13 p.m.