Senate votes to start highway talks

Greg Nash

The Senate voted on Tuesday to start talks with the House about a compromise highway funding measure.

Lawmakers are facing a Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure funding. Both chambers have passed bills that would guarantee at least three years of highway and transit spending, and the Senate voted 82-7 to begin bicameral negotiations on a potential compromise. 

The highway bill that was approved by the House last week calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years. 

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The Senate passed similar legislation that contained three years' worth of guaranteed highway funding in July, and lawmakers in both chambers have said they are eager to get to conference.  

Lawmakers have expressed optimism that they will be able to reach an agreement in time to get a highway funding bill to President Obama's desk before the scheduled interruption in federal road funding. 

"Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement while the House was finishing work on its version of the highway bill. 

"With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving," he continued. "This will allow for our nation to avoid the Highway Trust Fund hitting a dangerously low level, which DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx warned would significantly affect the 2016 construction season.”