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 FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 BoxerHillicon 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 Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.) and James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East 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 McConnellDemocratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The case for censuring, and not impeaching, Donald Trump 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 CarperLobbying World Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder MORE (Del.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg: Harris 'deserves to be under anybody's consideration' for vice president MORE (Mass.) and 14 Republicans, including GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Sanders meets with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Cruz knocks Chick-fil-A over past donation: It has 'lost its way' MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio places hold on number-two Interior nominee over offshore drilling Rubio on Chris Pratt water bottle story: 'I too was caught with a single use plastic water bottle' House votes to sanction Chinese officials over treatment of Uighurs 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 HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa 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.