Boxer says Senate will send highway bill to House

Greg Nash

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.) criticized the House's No. 2 Republican on Monday, arguing that the Senate intends to move a multi-year highway bill regardless of threats of inaction by the House.

"I read that the [Majority Leader] over in the House, who comes from California, said the Senate should not send the bill over to the House," she said. "My response to that is if we have a bill, we're sending it." 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday that his chamber will not vote on Senate's highway bill, which funds highway construction for three years and revives the now-expired Export-Import Bank.

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“We’re not taking up the Senate bill,” McCarthy declared to a roomful of reporters in his office.

Boxer, who negotiated the Senate multi-year highway agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDHS urges states to beef up election security DHS chief: 21 states sought help over election hacking concerns 9/11 bill is a global blunder that will weaken US efforts abroad MORE (R-Ky.), said Monday that the Senate should not be deterred by McCarthy's threat. 

"He says 'we're leaving' and that's it," she said. "If the House chooses to go out on vacation or a work period of whatever they do, that's their business. But it's our job to fix the problems we're facing." 

The House has already passed an $8 billion patch to fund road projects through Dec. 18 in an effort to prevent the Senate from adding the Ex-Im Bank to the transportation funding measure. 

Boxer argued that the House measure would do little to help states complete large construction projects. 

"If we pass a five-month like some of our opponents are calling for here and in the House, we don't have dime one to fix any bridge," she said. "All we're doing is at the bare minimum extending the program. No one is going to undertake any time of long-term fix on these bridges." 

The legislative game of chicken comes as there are just five days before the Department of Transportation's authority to make payments to states out of its Highway Trust Fund ends.

The agency has already warned states that it will have to cut back on payments for road projects if Congress does not reach an agreement on a transportation funding extension. 

Congress has been grappling with a $16 billion annual transportation funding shortfall since 2005, and has 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 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 Republican leaders have ruled out a tax hike.

The Senate's version of the highway measure includes an approximately $47 billion package of offsets to supplement the gas tax revenue that has lagged behind transportation expenses for years. The offsets will only close the infrastructure funding gap for three years, so lawmakers will have to revisit the issue in 2018 if they want to make the measure a full six-year transportation bill. 

The Senate package relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks; selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, used to prevent energy crises; and directing fees from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and customs processing. 

The House patch, meanwhile, relies on $3 billion worth of savings from TSA fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures.

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.

-Scott Wong contributed to this report.

-This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. to correct an earlier version.