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McCarthy: House will not vote on Senate’s highway funding bill
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday said his chamber will not vote on the Senate's six-year highway bill.
McCarthy's declaration that the House will not be "taking up the Senate bill" means a short-term extension is the only way to prevent a lapse in federal infrastructure funding at the end of the week.
It also means the Export-Import Bank, linked to the highway bill in the Senate, will not be renewed until September at the earliest.
The charter for the bank, which provides loan guarantees to help U.S. corporations sell goods overseas, expired on June 30 - a result cheered by conservatives who blast Ex-Im as an example of "corporate welfare."
Supporters had seen the highway bill as a great chance to renew the bank.
McCarthy's decision leaves Congress with two possible paths forward.
The House could simply do nothing, leave town and hope that will force the Senate to swallow the five-month highway bill it passed two weeks ago. That measure does not include any Ex-Im language.
Another, less confrontational option would be to go smaller and send the Senate a two- or three-month highway patch, punting the issues of highway spending and Ex-Im until after Labor Day, when Congress returns from its summer recess.
Senate and House Republicans are on different planets when it comes to the highway bill.
Besides the fight over the Export-Import Bank, House Republicans prefer a shorter-term bill to buy time for negotiations with the White House on tax reform, which Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) believes could be used to pay for a full six years of highway funding.
The Senate bill, crafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), covers six years but only pays for three years of funding.
McConnell prefers the Senate bill because it would prevent a series of votes on stopgap measures this fall, and possibly in 2016, when the GOP leader wants to focus on helping his conference retain its Senate majority.
A majority of Senate Republicans have backed McConnell, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) reacted to McCarthy's comments by stating on the Senate floor that he is "very concerned about what the House is doing right now."
McCarthy said the House would stick to its schedule and head home on Thursday.
He criticized the Senate, saying it is unfair to send the House a complex, 1,000-plus-page bill just days before the deadline for renewing transportation spending, and he urged the Senate to take up the House-approved, five-month bill.
"We have sent that to the Senate. It is sitting in the Senate. ... I just want the Senate to get it done, so jobs are not in jeopardy, transportation is not in jeopardy," McCarthy told reporters. "It was a bipartisan, overwhelming vote, and it puts us on a path to have a long-term highway bill that is fully paid for."
McCarthy also laid out his rationale for why a five-month bill was preferable to a shorter extension, though he pointedly did not rule out a short-term measure.
"You already have five months sitting out there. When you take a three-month bill, it's very close to the cost of a five-month, so why wouldn't you just take the five-month," he said.
Business leaders slammed lawmakers for preparing to leave town without voting on Ex-Im.
"With more than 60 export credit agencies enabling our foreign competitors to seize opportunities away from workers, it's critical that Congress restores this important tool for American exports," said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Ex-Im allies are already eyeing other "must-pass" bills as possible vehicles for an Ex-Im renewal in the fall. One senior Republican aide to a member supportive of the bank said that Ex-Im foes "shouldn't rest easy."
"If the reauthorization rider isn't brought to the floor this time around, there are numerous other must-pass packages that the Senate could tack it onto before year's end," said the aide to a senior House Republican.
A two- or three-month bill would place the highway fight in the middle of an already busy September session: That month, Congress will need to figure out how to fund
government agencies and avert a shutdown, vote on whether to kill President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and also welcome Pope Francis for a historic speech at the Capitol.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who negotiated the Senate bill with McConnell, criticized McCarthy, arguing the House was preparing to leave with highway funding at an impasse.
"If he wants that on his conscience, that's all fine with me," Boxer said. "They ought to stay an extra week and deal with it."
While the House is scheduled to begin its August recess at the end of this week, the Senate is scheduled to work next week.
A majority of Boxer's own caucus has sided against her on the highway bill, however, and a Senate Democratic aide predicted that McConnell and his allies would have a difficult time stopping a short-term highway deal.
Rank-and-file Republicans aren't thrilled with the possibility of another highway funding Band-Aid either.
"As frustrated as I am with these short term extensions of the Highway Trust Fund, allowing it to run out of money is not an option," Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an email. "I will vote to keep our transportation projects funded through the summer while we work toward a long-term solution."
Peter Schroeder, Bernie Becker and Jordain Carney contributed.
This story was updated at 8:02 p.m.