Senate begins debate on highway bill, setting up weekend session
© Francis Rivera

The Senate on Friday formally started debate on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE’s six-year highway bill, setting up a weekend session and putting the chamber on a collision course with the House.

Senators voted to proceed to the bill negotiated by McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (D-Calif.) in a 51-26 vote that split both parties.  

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McConnell wants to quickly wrap up work on the legislation by Wednesday so that it can be sent to the House, which is scheduled to begin its August recess at the end of next week.

House Republicans prefer a five-month extension of highway spending already approved by the lower chamber. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said the Senate bill “won’t fly” in the House.

Democrats in the House have also voiced opposition to the Senate bill.

Authority for highway spending will expire at the end of the month without action by Congress.

Boxer on Thursday pleaded from the Senate floor for her colleagues to put aside their differences on the highway bill and realize that it was better than a short-term fix. 

“We need more votes. We need this to happen,” she said. “I say to my colleagues on both sides, and have said it to my own caucus earlier in the day, nobody is going to love every page in this bill.”

McConnell is expected to allow a vote on an amendment to the measure that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. That will make the package even more controversial in the House, where a sizeable number of conservatives do not want to see the bank resurrected after its charter expired at the end of last month.

The Senate majority leader is also expected to offer an amendment to repeal ObamaCare on Friday. The move, while unlikely to be successful, will give Republican lawmakers a chance to vote on a key campaign promise of rolling back President Obama's signature healthcare law. 

McConnell will file cloture on the amendment, as well as a separate amendment from Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.), setting up likely votes on Sunday.

Several Senate Republicans are hoping to attach a handful of controversial amendments to the legislation that, if successful, could also sink the bill.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.) want to attach an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood.