Senate highway bill taps Fed, oil reserves, TSA

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The Senate highway bill that was unveiled by the Senate on Tuesday includes approximately $47 billion in revenue from other areas of the federal budget to supplement gas tax revenue that is used to pay for transportation projects. 

The 1,030 page measure, which was unveiled about an hour before a procedural vote on Tuesday, relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that is used to prevent energy crises and directing fees from Transportation Security Administration and customs processing. 

The funding will be used to offset a transfer of about $47 billion into the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund to close a gap in transportation funding that is estimated to be approximately $16 billion a year for at least three years. 

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Backers of the deal, which was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Sens Jim InhofeJames InhofeMcCain wants hearings on lifting of military's transgender ban Senate Republicans push for Flint aid bill Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor MORE (R-Okla.) and Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Calif. Dem missed votes, sit-in on trip to Spain Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 MORE (D-Calif.), said the agreement "reverses the trend of short-term, temporary fixes to fund the nation’s transportation network.

"The DRIVE Act is a six-year highway authorization that will allow planning for important long-term projects around the country, and provides three years of guaranteed funding for the highway trust fund," the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement announcing the specifics of the comprise legislation, which has been dubbed the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act.

"The bill is fully offset with spending reductions or changes to federal programs," the statement continued. "It does not increase the deficit or raise taxes."  

GOP leaders are scrambling to beat a July 31 deadline for replenishing the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund, but Democrats in the upper chamber have complained that they have not had enough time to read the actual text of the bill. 

The proposal that was unveiled on Tuesday calls for taking $16.3 billion from the interest rate changes, $9 billion from the sales of reserved oil, $4 billion from customs fees, $3.5 billion from the TSA fees and $1.9 billion from extending guarantees on mortgage-backed securities that had been scheduled to start declining in 2021.

Other funding sources in the measure include approximately $7.7 billion in tax compliance measures that lawmakers have said can raise revenue that can be used to pay for roads. 

Congress has been grappling with the transportation funding shortfall since 2005, and they have not passed an infrastructure funding bill that last longer than two years during that span.  

The main source of transportation funding for decades has been revenue that is collected by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually.

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but McConnell and other Republican leaders have ruled out a tax hike.

Congressional budget scorekeepers have estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to fully pay for a six-year transportation bill.