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 FlakeMcSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle 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 Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer joins DC lobbying firm Hillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill MORE (D-Calif.) and James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report Democratic senators press Interior official over proposed changes to migratory bird protections 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 McConnellErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request 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 CarperConsensus forming for ambitious climate goal: Net zero pollution Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Democratic senator gives EPA a D-minus on implementing PFAS action plan MORE (Del.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (Mass.) and 14 Republicans, including GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' 'Medicare for All' will turn into health care for none Cruz 'impresses' his daughter with Chris Evans meeting MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPeace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid MORE (Fla.), voted against the legislation.
 
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 HeitkampSusan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same 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.