House to vote on $325B highway bill

House to vote on $325B highway bill
© Greg Nash

The House is expected to vote Thursday on a $325 billion highway bill after a weeklong vote-a-rama and an intense debate about federal gas taxes.

The measure, titled the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, calls for spending $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs — but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years.

The House is expected to approve the bill, setting up a potential conference with the Senate ahead of a Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure funding. 

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Lawmakers have voted on nearly 130 amendments to the highway funding measure over the past two days in an effort to display a more open legislative process under new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). 

Democrats have complained bitterly about a decision by House Republicans to block a vote on a controversial amendment that would have raised the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, which directly funds transportation projects, by 15 cents.

Democrats said the GOP's move to avoid a vote on increasing the gas tax flies in the face of Ryan's promise for more open legislative debates.

"The biggest and most glaring omission by the Rules Committee is not allowing any attempt by this House to fund the bill. I mean that's pretty extraordinary," Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThanks to President Biden, infrastructure is bipartisan again — it needs to stay that way Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senate punts on defense bill Biden's next challenge: Selling the infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ore.), who is the top ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during debate on the highway bill on Wednesday.   

"Why can't we have a simple vote on revenues?" DeFazio continued. 

Republicans countered that the chamber has powered through dozens of amendments in an attempt to pass a highway bill that lasts longer than two years for the first time since 2005. 

"By any measure, this is the best transportation process and the best transportation rule that this body has seen in a decade," said Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallDraft Georgia congressional lines target McBath, shore up Bourdeaux The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 MORE (R-Ga.), who is a GOP floor manager for the highway bill.  

The House is expected to move quickly to conference with the Senate on the highway funding bill if it passed on Thursday as expected. The Senate in July had already approved a similar bill that contains three years' guaranteed highway funding.