Boehner ‘confident’ in fall prospects for long highway bill

Francis Rivera

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that he is “confident” that lawmakers will be able to agree to a long-term highway bill in the fall as he seeks to downplay intra-party squabbling between Republicans as they debated the measure this week. 

“That’s one bill,” he told reporters of the disagreements that led the chambers to shelve a long-term highway bill that has been worked on by the Senate in favor of a three-month temporary patch. 

“Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and I, while we have a disagreement over this bill, or we’ve had one, we both want to get to a long-term highway bill,” Boehner continued. “Sen. McConnell and I are frankly going to work very closely to try to minimize the differences. I’m confident as we get into this fall, we’re going to have pretty smooth sailing.”  

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. 

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since a 2005 measure expired in 2009.  

McConnell said earlier on Wednesday that he is going to push to try to finish the Senate’s long-term highway bill to set up a bicameral negotiation when lawmakers return to Washington from their traditional August recess. 

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

“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.” 

McConnell, who negotiated the Senate’s highway deal with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), also sought to downplay the intense infighting between Republicans over the highway bill this week as he acquiesced to the House’s demand for a temporary patch. 

“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.” 

“Once the Senate completes it work on the bill, the House of Representative will begin its work on a multiyear measure as well,” McConnell 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.” 

Tags DRIVE Act Highway bill Highway Trust Fund John Boehner MAP-21 Reauthorization

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