© 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.
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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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 BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D-Calif.) and James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse 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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.) praised lawmakers after passing the bill, suggesting senators have had to navigate around political and policy hurdles on the way to a long-term bill.
"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 & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs EPA finalizes rule cutting use of potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan MORE (Del.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTreasury says more rental aid is reaching tenants, preventing evictions 11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' MORE (Mass.) and 14 Republicans, including GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Matthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (Fla.), voted against the legislation.
Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Trump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham 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 HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill 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.