Senate Moves to Pass Short-term Highway Trust Fund Patch

Night_Paving_Photo_The Senate is poised to vote on legislation to ensure federal highway funds continue to flow to the states before Congress adjourns for the five-week August recess.  The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill July 15 that transfers $10.8 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund and extends current highway and transit policy and funding through May 31, 2015.  Senate leaders reached an agreement July 23 to take up the House-passed version and hold votes on four amendments, but the timing of the votes is not yet clear. 

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee respectively, offered an amendment to replace the House’s funding offsets with differing tax-compliance provisions.  Senate EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has teamed up with Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on an amendment to reduce the offset package from $10.8 billion to $8 billion and to shorten the duration of the extension to December, which would force Congress to deal with a long-term solution to the funding crisis during the lame duck period.  Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) amendment would expedite road and bridge repair projects following declared emergencies.  
 
There is also an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would reduce the federal gas user fee from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon over a five-year period. It also would remove nearly all authority over the nation’s highway and transit programs from the federal government. 
 
All amendments are subject to a 60-vote threshold under the agreement.  Should any of the amendments pass, the bill will return to the House for consideration.  If all amendments fail, the Senate will pass the House-passed version and the president is expected to sign it with only days to spare before the Department of Transportation is scheduled to delay payments to states.  
 
DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx  told members of the National Press Club July 21 that the department was planning to release a 30-year vision for the nation’s transportation infrastructure by the end of the year.  He also took a swipe at Congress for moving toward yet another short-term patch for the Highway Trust Fund.  “Every time Congress passes another patch, they drive another nail into the idea that America’s going to solve our transportation spending problem,” Foxx said.  The House passed a 10-month, $11 billion fix for the HTF July 15 by a vote of 367 to 55, and the Senate is preparing to take up the bill this week.  Foxx, along with 11 of his predecessors, sent a letter to Congress urging them to work together to draft and pass a long-term transportation bill without delay.
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