Senate Dems give GOP 45-day highway deadline

Senate Democrats are giving Republicans 45 days to negotiate a long-term highway funding extension.

And while they aren’t ruling out supporting another short-term fix when funding runs out at the end of July, they suggest it will be difficult to get such a measure through the Senate.

{mosads}“The bottom line is we’re asking them to meet our timetable. If they don’t meet this timetable, it will be very hard for us to do another short-term extension,” Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, told reporters Tuesday.

“We do not want a 34th short-term extension of this bill — this program,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). “We need Republicans to sit down with us, sit down together — don’t do it on their own. We don’t want to do it on our own. We want to sit down with them and negotiate the solution.”

Senate Democrats seeking to recapture their lost majority have rallied around highway funding as well as larger spending issues expected to dominate Washington in the second half of the year. On Tuesday, they challenged the GOP to put a multiyear highway bill on the floor by mid-July.

They hope their campaign will illustrate to voters that Democrats are more interested than Republicans in negotiating long-term solutions to the nation’s problems.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said Democrats are making it more difficult to get a multiyear highway bill done because they are blocking spending bills on the floor.

“We want to debate these issues, all of the appropriations bills. [We are] eager to get a multiyear highway bill, a transportation bill on the Senate floor in the month of July, but all those things are made much more difficult by a strategy that is purposely out there just to see that nothing happens,” he said.

“That is not the job of government. The job of the government is to do the people’s business and to do it openly and publicly. I call on the other side to help us get that done,” he added.

Congress passed a two-month extension of highway funding before its Memorial Day recess after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ignored Democratic demands to make highway funding a priority over President Obama’s trade agenda.

Democrats have also called for a budget summit this month to avoid a late-year standoff over spending levels. They warn such as fight could lead to a government shutdown, pointing to the breakdown on the Senate floor at the end of May that caused the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority to expire for a few days.

“It fits into a theme of trying to avoid what we’ve seen happen several times with [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and highways,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “We want negotiated longer-term solutions and want to start those conversations early.”

A Gallup poll published this week shows that only 8 percent of Americans are confident in Congress, the lowest rank of any major U.S. institution, and it cites partisan gridlock as a reason.

Democrats want to pay for a multiyear extension of the Highway Trust Fund with Obama’s proposal to tax overseas corporate profits.

In his budget plan for fiscal 2016, Obama called for a one-time 14 percent tax on approximately $2 trillion in corporate profits sitting abroad. The plan would also impose a 19 percent tax on U.S. companies’ future foreign earnings.

Corporate earnings collected abroad are now taxed at a 35 percent rate, but many companies avoid paying it by keeping their profits overseas.

Allowing companies to repatriate overseas profits with a one-time tax break would generate $238 billion. The rest of the infrastructure program described in Obama’s budget would be paid for by the federal gas tax.

“Our starting point in the negotiations is the president’s proposal,” Schumer said.

“There is a deemed repatriation the first year and continued on overseas income, which pays no taxes now,” he added, noting it is similar to a proposal made by former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

Senate Democrats sent a letter to their Republican colleagues Tuesday laying out a plan to avoid a shutdown of transportation construction projects.

The letter calls on the four relevant Senate committees to hold legislative hearings by the beginning of next week and complete mark-ups of a long-term transportation bill during the first full week of July.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) dismissed the Democratic plan as an unworkable tax increase.

“We’re not going to raise taxes,” he said. “I’m willing to look at everything, but we’re not going to raise taxes.”

“What’s their proposal? We’re willing to listen to their proposal. What is it and for how long and how much are they funding highways?” Schumer retorted.  

Tags Charles Schumer Harry Reid Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Roy Blunt
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