Senate blocks progress on highway bill

Senate blocks progress on highway bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate failed to move forward with legislation authorizing highway funding for six years after Democrats objected that they had yet to see the bill’s details.

In a 41-56 vote, the Senate voted against proceeding to a bill that will be used as a vehicle for the six-year highway deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list Climate debate comes full circle MORE (D-Calif.). Sixty votes were needed to move forward.

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Democrats weren’t alone in voicing opposition. Several Republicans, including Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), also voted against the procedural motion.

The vote represents a bad start for the McConnell-Boxer deal, but doesn’t mean the death of the legislation.

McConnell immediately after the vote said he understood many Democrats wanted more time to consider the 1,030-page bill, which he said was now available for review.

He then said the Senate would be in session on Saturday and Sunday.

"I know I haven't threatened a Saturday session all year," McConnell said, adding that such sessions could be necessary to get a bill to the House next week. 

"We need to keep at it, and that will require us more definitely to be in here this weekend," he said. 

Boxer and McConnell rolled out the bill, which includes three years of funding, on Tuesday morning. Boxer, at the time, called the legislation a “breakthrough.”

But Democratic leadership warned ahead of the vote that they wanted more time to read the legislation, and were planning to block it. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSanders hires veteran progressive operative to manage 2020 bid Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Klobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment MORE (D-Nev.) said earlier Tuesday that he would be “surprised” if Democrats voted to move forward on the bill given that they had only received the massive legislation hours before the vote.

“We're not going to vote on a bill we haven't seen. We'll vote on it but not favorably,” Reid said. 

After the vote, Reid voiced strong skepticism that Democrats would be ready to move forward on Wednesday, when he is expected to huddle with members of the Democratic caucus to discuss the proposal. 
 
"We want to be as cooperative as we can, but we're not going to lurch into this legislation without being able to read in detail," he said. "And after we've read it, being able to have a discussion in the caucus." 

Lawmakers face a tight deadline to pass the highway bill, with federal infrastructure funding expected to run out at the end of the month. 

Boxer said that while she agreed with Reid that Democrats need a chance to read the bill, she said that "I would submit that this isn't the first time we've done a highway bill." 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested that Tuesday isn't the first time lawmakers have seen a bill to fund highways, adding that "it's not like this was air dropped out of heaven." 
 
But, he added that he understands that lawmakers need to get "comfortable" with how the McConnell-Boxer proposal recommends paying for the funding for highway projects.