Senate approves six-year highway bill

The Senate passed its long-term highway bill Thursday, though their work on federal infrastructure funding isn’t over.

Senators voted 65-34 to approve the six-year bill, which funds federal highway and infrastructure projects for three years. 

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Democrats were split on the measure, with most of the caucus’s leadership voting against the bill negotiated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellObama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Fifteen Republican senators, including three 2016 presidential candidates, bucked McConnell and voted against the proposal.

The legislation also faces an uncertain future with the House, which has committed to passing its own long-term highway bill after the August recess.

In the meantime, the House has approved a three-month stopgap measure that the Senate is expected to approve later on Thursday.

That legislation also addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

McConnell on Thursday cast the short-term measure as buying time for the House to put together its own long-term highway bill.

“The multi-year nature of this legislation is one of its most critical components. It’s also something the House and Senate are now united on,” he said. “We all want the House to have the space it needs to develop its own bill, because we all want to work out the best possible legislation … in conference.”

Another hurdle for the bill with the House is that it would extend the Export-Import Bank for five years. Conservatives in the lower chamber want to prevent the bank’s charter from being renewed.

The legislation would be used to pay for about $47 billion of funding for the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund. That funding accounts for only the first three years of the legislation. Under the Senate bill, senators would have to determine by 2018 how to pay for the full six years.

In an effort to keep McConnell’s pledge to not increase the gas tax, the Senate’s bill includes a package of payfors including revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks and selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, normally used to prevent energy crises.