Senate sends $305B highway bill to Obama

Senate sends $305B highway bill to Obama
© Greg Nash
The Senate approved a five-year, $305 billion highway bill Thursday, sending it to President Obama with just one day to spare before the scheduled expiration of the nation's road and transit spending.
 
The measure passed by a 83-16 tally, hours after sailing through the House on a lopsided 359-65 vote.
 
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The 1,300-page bill, paid for with gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years. It also reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank’s expired charter until 2019. 
 
Obama is expected to quickly sign the measure, which is the first long-term national transportation spending package in a decade and has been a priority this year for both the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress. 
 
The legislation faced a potential last-minute snag over the inclusion of $3 billion for crop insurance. 
 
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Veteran political reporter says New Hampshire voters have 'hunger' to moderate political turbulence MORE (R-Ariz.) forced a vote on whether lawmakers should have been able to drop the provision — which wasn't included in the original House or Senate proposals — into the final deal while it was in conference. 
 
"What we're doing here is targeting a specific provision that was airdropped into the highway bill," he added. "This isn't an attack on the highway bill." 
 
But Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFox's Ingraham transitioning longtime radio show to podcast Former Dem aide makes first court appearance on charges of posting GOP senators' info online Ex-House intern charged with 'doxing' GOP senators during Kavanaugh hearing MORE (D-Calif.) and James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails MORE (R-Okla.) warned that if Flake's push was successful, it would sink the bill, with infrastructure spending set to run out Friday. 
 
"If the highway bill is changed … it has to go back to the House," he said. "In other words, this issue is not whether or not or not how you feel about crop insurance; it's whether or not you want this bill." 
 
Flake ultimately fell short, with Boxer telling her colleagues "I love everyone tonight" about those who voted with her to block the Arizona Republican's effort.
 
 
"We all had just all kinds of tripwires on the path to getting what we thought was important to the country — which was a multiyear highway bill," he said. "This has been one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experiences I've had in the time I've been in the Senate."
 
Democratic Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Dem senator expresses concerns over potential Nielsen ouster MORE (Del.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDems wonder if Sherrod Brown could be their magic man Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Entrepreneur touts big solutions, endorsements in discussing presidential bid MORE (Mass.) and 14 Republicans, including GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocratic strategist warns Beto should be ‘careful’ with social media presence Hillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 O'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Lawmakers struggle with how to punish Saudi Arabia | Trump regrets not visiting Arlington for Veterans Day | North Korea deports detained American Hillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 Rubio defends '3 point kick' analogy: 'You think everyone who follows politics knows what a field goal is?' Lawmakers to introduce bipartisan bill targeting China's treatment of Muslims MORE (Fla.), voted against the legislation.
 
Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTrump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Senators return to Washington intent on action against Saudis MORE (R-Utah) slammed his colleagues who supported the highway bill, saying that "while the math may add up on paper,” the legislation includes "irresponsible and unsustainable funding mechanisms." 
 
Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.  
 
Dubbed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, the new bill formally reauthorizes the collection of the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax that is typically used to pay for transportation projects, and also includes $70 billion in “pay-fors” to close a $16 billion deficit in annual transportation funding that has developed as U.S. cars have become more fuel-efficient. 
 
The gas tax has been the traditional source for transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s, but lawmakers have resisted increasing the amount that drivers pay. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects; the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually. 
 
Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term transportation funding extension without raising the gas tax. The offsets in the agreement that was announced on Tuesday include changes to custom fees and passport rules for applicants who have delinquent taxes. 
 
Additional mechanisms include contracting out some tax collection services to private companies — over the objection of unions that represent federal IRS workers — and tapping dividends from the Federal Reserve Bank.
 
Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator North Dakota New Members 2019 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck MORE (D-N.D.) praised her colleagues for including the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank in the highway bill, adding that it is an "important step to show that Congress can work together across the aisle to stand up for American businesses and workers."
 
Updated at 9:19 p.m.