McCarthy to Senate: Keep Ex-Im out of highway bill

Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned the Senate on Thursday to pass a clean transportation funding extension as senators weigh adding the controversial Export-Import bank to the infrastructure legislation. 

Lawmakers are facing a July 31 deadline for the expiration of current infrastructure funding, and senators have toyed with the idea of including an extension of the Ex-Im Bank’s charter in their version of the new highway bill.

The House voted Wednesday to approve a short-term $8 billion extension, which lasts until December, in part to preempt the Senate from attaching Ex-Im. 

{mosads}McCarthy said Thursday that the Senate should focus on keeping federal highway dollars flowing past the end of this month. 

“I am one who has always believed in the principle that you should just deal with the subject that’s before you,” he said during a debate on the House floor. 

“We have passed the highway bill,” McCarthy continued. “The best advice I can give to the Senate … [is] to pass a clean highway bill and move it to the president.” 

The fight over whether reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, which expired in June, should be added to the highway bill comes as lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption in the nation’s transportation spending. 

The Department of Transportation has warned that its Highway Trust Fund will dip below a mandatory critical level of $4 billion at the end of the month. The agency has said crossing that threshold will necessitate a cut-back on payments to state and local governments

Congress has been grappling since 2005 with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years during that span. 

The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but the tax has not been increased since 1993 and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects; the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out a tax hike

The patch that was approved by the House relies instead on $3 billion worth of savings from Transportation Security Administration fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures to fund road projects through Dec. 18. 

The Senate, meanwhile, has worked on a six-year, $275 billion transportation funding measure, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have not yet revealed how their legislation would be paid for — and they have floated the idea of adding the Ex-Im bank to it. 

Senators have expressed optimism that the highway cliff can been avoided, despite the warnings from House leaders about attaching the controversial bank to the measure. 

“People may think there’s some type of an adversarial relationship between our bill in the Senate and the House bill — there isn’t,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said after the House vote on Wednesday.  

“We’ll go to conference with the House and it will be business as usual,” he added. “I just want to make sure, in case there’s a fire looming out there that we put it out early.” 

Tags Ex-Im Bank Highway bill Highway Trust Fund Kevin McCarthy MAP-21 Reauthorization

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