McConnell drives to finish long-term highway bill before recess

McConnell drives to finish long-term highway bill before recess
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.) is pushing to finish work in his chamber on a long-term highway bill this week, even though he has already signaled that he will accept a temporary extension to prevent an interruption in federal road funding from the House. 

"We'll conference the legislation we pass with what the House passes and then send a unified bill to President Obama," he said in a floor speech at the start of Wednesday's Senate session. 

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"In the meantime, we'll work with our friends in the House to give them the space they need to develop a multiyear highway bill," McConnell continued. "We'll take up that bill once the House sends it to us, and we'll continue working in the interim to finish our own multiyear highway bill, a bill that's fiscally responsible and won't raise taxes by a penny." 

Lawmakers are facing a Friday deadline for renewing federal transportation spending. The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to cut back on payments to states and local governments unless Congress reaches an agreement on an extension. 

The Senate voted 65-35 on Wednesday morning to end debate on their long-term highway bill, clearing the way for a potential Thursday vote on final passage.

The House is expected to vote on a temporary three-month patch on Wednesday and then leave town without taking up the Senate's long-term highway bill. 

The Senate's acceptance of the House's three-month highway funding proposal sets up a punt on infrastructure funding that will extend debate about paying for the nation's road and transit projects into October. 

McConnell, who negotiated the Senate's highway deal with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), described the intense fighting between lawmakers across party and chamber lines this week as part of the normal legislative process. 

"Late nights of vigorous legislating and sometimes unpredictable outcomes might make some reach for the aspirin, but these are the hallmarks of a functioning Congress," he said. 

"The push and pull between different parties, different members and different chambers is all just part of the democratic rhythm," McConnell continued. "That's especially true when you're talking about a measure as complicated and consequential as a multiyear highway bill."  

He added that he is "pleased to see Republicans and Democrats continue to hold together to pass the Senate's bipartisan highway legislation. 

"We're on the verge of scoring another important victory for the American people," McConnell said. 

The majority leader predicted the Senate's expected passage of the long-term highway bill would pressure the House to craft a multiyear road funding measure of its own when lawmakers return from their traditional August recess. 

"Once the Senate completes it work on the bill, the House of Representative will begin its work on a multiyear measure as well," he said. 

"A multiyear bill is now our joint goal," McConnell continued. "That's important for our country. We know it represents the best way to provide the state and local governments with the kind of certainty they need to focus on longer term road and bridge projects."