Reid: 'Significant issues' with Senate highway bill

Reid: 'Significant issues' with Senate highway bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that he has "some significant issues" with the 1,030-page highway bill that was unveiled by Republican leaders in the Senate on Tuesday. 

Reid said Wednesday that he has questions about some of the proposed pay-fors in the bill, which was negotiated by Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBarbara Boxer recounts harassment on Capitol Hill: ‘The entire audience started laughing’ 100 years of the Blue Slip courtesy Four more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.). 

"There are some significant issues, I’ve already been alerted by my staff, and some of the pay-fors are somewhat questionable," Reid said. "Before we start drawing lines in the sand here, let's see if we can figure out a way to get this done. We will know that sometime early this afternoon." 

The multi-year highway bill includes approximately $47 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget to help pay for new highway funding over the next three years.

The proposal 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 the Transportation Security Administration and customs processing. 

GOP leaders are scrambling to meet a July 31 deadline for new highway funding.

Reid said Senate Democrats are planning to meet on Wednesday afternoon to consider the merits of the bill.

"We've worked through the night and I think we have a basic understanding of it," he said. "So I’m having a caucus today, and we'll have my ranking members from Finance, Commerce, Energy, Banking report on how they look at this bill. It's my hope that we can work our way through all the issues dealing with this legislation." 

The proposal calls for taking $16.3 billion from the interest rate changes, $9 billion from the sales of reserve oil, $4 billion from customs fees, $3.5 billion from 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. 

Congress has been grappling with the transportation funding shortfall since 2005, and they have not passed an infrastructure funding bill that lasts 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.