This week: Highway funding stalemate looms

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A showdown over funding federal transportation projects is brewing in the penultimate week before Congress leaves town for its summer break. 

The Senate will start its work on a bill to fund federal highways, with an early procedural vote on Tuesday. 

The House passed a five-month Highway Trust Fund patch last week in an attempt to jam the upper chamber before senators add a provision renewing the Export-Import Bank. But the Senate’s persistence in forging ahead with its own bill sets up a showdown next week when one chamber will have to relent before leaving Washington for the monthlong August recess.

{mosads}Senators have been working on a longer six-year, $275 billion bill, though lawmakers have struggled ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline to lock down how to pay for the funding. 

The Senate’s plan includes a controversial proposal to take $30 billion in savings from a federal employee retirement savings plan, though that’s gotten pushback from Democrats. 

The bill also faces a myriad of hurdles from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

Supporters of the Export-Import Bank are expected to offer an amendment reauthorizing the bank’s charter after it expired last month. The move is expected to split Republicans, pitting presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) against each other. 

Graham supports the bank, while Cruz has refused to rule out filibustering the highway bill if reauthorization is attached. The Texas Republican’s move could further compress Congress’s already tight schedule. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is pledging to try to get a vote on an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of a controversial video. 

A statement from Paul’s office says that he will “use all legislative vehicles at his disposal” and the timeframe is the “coming week.” Though Paul doesn’t specifically mention the highway bill, it’s expected to dominate the Senate’s week. 

GMO food labeling, coal ash regulations

A patent reform bill was originally slated for debate on the House floor this week, but GOP leaders decided to delay a vote for now due to concerns about whether it had the votes to pass. 

The House instead will consider two bills regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation establishing power plants’ disposal of coal ash and labeling of food produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

The bill authored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) would require states to set up permitting standards for how power plants should dispose of coal ash and strip away some of the other aspects of the EPA’s regulation.

McKinley’s legislation answers a number of concerns Republicans and utilities had with the EPA’s December rule, which set the first national standards for storage and disposal of coal ash waste at power plants and in landfills. But Democrats argue the bill is unnecessary and would push back deadlines while weakening the rule.

The food labeling measure would keep the labeling of foods that contain GMOs voluntary and create a federal standard for companies that choose to do so. But food safety groups oppose a provision in the bill that preempts states from passing their own mandatory GMO labeling laws and prevents local governments from regulating the production of GMO crops.

Lastly, a measure reconciling the House and Senate versions of the annual defense authorization could also come up for a vote.

Below is a day-by-day breakdown of the week ahead:


Neither the House nor Senate will be in session.


The House will convene at noon for morning hour debate and 2 p.m. for legislative business. Votes on noncontroversial bills under suspension of the rules will be at 6:30 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and break at 12:30 p.m. for the weekly caucus luncheons. At 2:15 p.m., the Senate will vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the highway bill.


The House may vote on legislation regarding coal ash regulations. Last votes will likely occur in the late afternoon. House members will also receive a classified briefing from top Obama administration officials on the Iran deal.

The Senate is expected to continue consideration of the highway bill, which likely won’t be sped up if Cruz or another senator refuses to grant unanimous consent to do so.


The House may vote on the bill to establish a voluntary standard for labeling foods with GMOs.

The Senate will likely still be on the highway bill, but it’s unclear if it’ll be able to finish work on it before leaving town for the week. Consideration of the highway bill could consequently leak into next week, when lawmakers will be eager to leave for the August recess.


The Senate is not expected to be in session. But the House may consider the defense authorization conference report, with last votes expected no later than 3 p.m.

– Timothy Cama and Lydia Wheeler contributed.

Tags David McKinley Environmental Protection Agency Genetically modified organisms Highway Trust Fund Iran Lindsey Graham Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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