McConnell wins Dem highway votes with Social Security concession

Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) persuaded 14 Democrats to switch their votes on a six-year highway deal by agreeing to drop a controversial provision affecting Social Security.

McConnell agreed to scrap an offset that would have raised $2.3 billion by stopping the payment of Social Security benefits to people with felony warrants, according to McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart.

ADVERTISEMENT
Stewart added that other “tweaks” also have been made to the bill, which will be unveiled Thursday morning.

Democrats objected to the Social Security offset as a dangerous precedent that might have emboldened Congress to raid Social Security funds in the future for other spending priorities.

“I don’t know of any time in our history when the Senate has taken money out of the Social Security fund and put it in some other public purpose,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Wednesday before a Democratic meeting to discuss the bill. “It’s outrageous.”

House Democrats also opposed the Social Security provision, which would have made passage of the Senate bill in the lower chamber much harder because a significant number of House Republicans have already complained about its offset covering only three years instead of the full six.

The bill now has strong momentum after 14 Democrats, two independents and 46 Republicans voted in favor of a procedural motion on the bill in th Senate Wednesday evening. The successful vote came a day after a similar vote failed.

The Huffington Post first reported the change.

“There are a lot of tired clichés about not giving up after an initial setback. I won't subject you to any of them this morning,” McConnell quipped on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

“Last night's vote represents an important first step toward passing a multi-year, bipartisan highway bill,” he added. “It’s a first step on a much longer road — but, in my view, a worthwhile one.”

President Obama and Democrats will likely rally behind it because it represents the best chance to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which saw its charter expire last month.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that Obama is a “strong advocate” for reauthorizing the bank as quickly as possible.

“The most likely vehicle to move through Congress next, is the extension of the transportation funding, and that is why the administration does support whatever transportation vehicle moves, that it include legislation that reauthorizes the Ex-Im Bank,” he said.

Senate Democrats also balked at the bill’s split between highway and transit funds, which is traditionally divided at an 80-20 ratio. Democrats on Wednesday said the deal put the highway-transit split at 94-6.

It includes almost $50 billion in offsets covering the first three years of the authorization. If it becomes law, the 115th Congress will have to find a way to pay for the second half.