White House insists on attaching Ex-Im bank to highway bill

White House insists on attaching Ex-Im bank to highway bill
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President Obama is insisting that lawmakers reauthorize the controversial Export-Import Bank in must-pass transportation funding legislation that is being debated this week, the White House said Thursday. 

Republicans in the House have vocally objected to the idea of including an extension of the Ex-Im Bank’s charter in the highway bill, despite an apparent openness to the proposal in the Senate. 

The standoff has imperiled federal transportation funding that is scheduled to expire on July 31 without congressional action. 

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White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Obama is adamant the Ex-Im Bank renewal should be included in the transportation funding bill, despite the objections from the GOP-led House. 

"Surface transportation legislation is the most likely legislative vehicle, no pun intended, to move before the end of the month," he said. "That's why we've insisted that the provisions related to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank should be added to any transportation bill that passes Congress this month." 

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. 

GOP leaders are scrambling to meet a July 31 deadline for replenishing the Department of Transportation's beleaguered Highway Trust Fund. Transportation department officials have warned they will have to cut back on payments to states at the end of the month unless Congress reaches an agreement on a transportation funding extension. 

Lawmakers in the Senate have worked on a multi-year transportation bill, but GOP leaders in the House resisted the upper chamber's efforts to add the Ex-Im Bank renewal to its proposal. 

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

Earnest said Thursday the White House is still sorting through the various payment methods that are included in the Senate's long-term transportation bill proposal. 

"I can tell you that our team is still reviewing the legislation," he said. "It's more than 1,000 pages long. 

"The things that they are paying particular close attention to are the pay-fors, the offsets if you will," Earnest continued. "Whenever we're talking about funding bills, Democrats and Republicans will have the most heated disagreements when it comes to ensuring that these programs are properly funded, so that is getting some careful attention." 

The Senate highway measure includes an approximately $47 billion package of offsets that relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that is used to prevent energy crises and directing fees from the Transportation Security Administration and customs processing. 

Earnest said the White House is also paying attention to complaints from Democrats in the Senate about regulatory changes related to transportation safety initiatives that are included in the chamber's highway bill. 

"There are concerns that have been raised about some of the safety that have been included in the bill," he said. "The Department of Transportation makes the safety of the American traveling public their top priority, so we're going to obviously take a look at some of the safety provisions that are in here." 

Among the changes that were left out of the final highway bill after a contentious committee hearing earlier this month is a provision that would allow federal regulators to jail automakers who cover up car defects

The proposal, which follows a series of major auto recalls, would make failing to inform federal regulators about faulty auto parts a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. 

Other deleted provisions that have riled Democrats are language that would eliminate a $35 million cap on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ability to fine automakers who fail to comply with recall regulations and require the installation of a warning system that will warn drivers when their cars have been recalled by manufacturers. 

Other provisions that have upset Democrats include delaying until 2020 a mandate for the implementation of an automated rail navigation system known as Positive Train Control that is currently set for December and increasing a current 18-year-old age limit for truck drivers.