Congress set to back short-term highway funding

Congress set to back short-term highway funding

The House will vote Wednesday on a three-month highway-spending bill, paving the way for Congress to leave for a six-week recess without a lapse in federal transportation funding.

Senate leaders signaled they will approve the three-month extension before the end of the week, when federal authority for road and infrastructure spending dries up.

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House lawmakers are expected to leave for the August recess after final votes on Wednesday, while the Senate will remain in session for another week.

The fight over highways has split Senate and House Republican leaders, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) saying his chamber would not consider the six-year highway bill crafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (Ky.).

But on Tuesday, Republicans in both chambers sought to get on the same page, arguing that they all backed a long-term highway bill. Republicans in both chambers said passing the three-month bill would buy time to reach a deal.

“I want a long-term highway bill that is fully paid for,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) said following a House GOP conference meeting. “That has been the goal all year and that continues to be the goal.

“We’ve been trying to do this for four years, it’s time to get it across the finish line and I’m going to do everything I can to get to a long-term highway bill by the end of October.”

McConnell and other Senate Republicans said the House decision to move the three-month bill would pave the way for a conference.

“We’re pleased that they seem to agree with us that a multi-year highway bill is important,” said Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts MORE (R-Texas). Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneAviation panel recommends Trump roll back safety rules Overnight Regulation: House moves to block methane rule | Senators wrestle with allowing driverless trucks | EPA delays toxic waste rule Overnight Tech: Senate looks at self-driving trucks | Facebook to keep ads off fake news | House panel calls Equifax CEO to testify MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters the House wouldn’t have taken the step if the Senate hadn’t pushed to do a long-term bill.

The decision to fund highways for three months means the Export-Import Bank loses a vehicle for its charter to be extended.

The Senate highway bill includes a five-year renewal of the bank, which has run into opposition from conservatives but is backed by the White House, Democrats and a portion of the GOP. The charter will remain in limbo until a conference on a long-term highway bill, unless a separate vehicle is found.

The two chambers have been battling over rival highway bills for a week, with the House preferring a five-month extension approved earlier this month over the Senate’s bill, which would fund roads and other infrastructure projects for three years and authorize spending for six years if lawmakers can find the additional money later.

“Sen. McConnell and I work very closely together on a whole host of issues, but there are times when the Senate has to do what the Senate has to do and the House has to do what it has to do,” John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE told reporters. “If you’ll notice, that doesn’t happen very often. It’s just that it’s happening this week.”

The fight has cut across both parties, with Senate and House Republicans pitted against one another and Democrats also divided in the Senate.

House Republicans prefer the short-term measure because they want to buy time for negotiations with the White House over tax reform that could be used to pay for a longer highway bill. 

The new House measure, which was introduced late Monday evening, would extend highway funding until Oct. 29, 2015 — setting up a new deadline.  

“It will give us enough time for our committee to do our work, get something on the board and go to conference,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The House patch also includes language allowing the Veterans Affairs Department to shift $3 billion within the agency to shore up a budget shortfall so hospitals and other facilities don’t close in August, aides said. 

The legislation also would ensure that veterans with service-related disabilities can use health saving accounts. 

Jordain Carney contributed.