From THE HILL: House approves $8 billion highway funding extension


By Keith Laing07/15/15 04:25 PM EDT

The House voted Wednesday to approve an $8 billion bill to extend federal transportation funding until December.

The funding extension was approved in a 312-119 vote.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, which is considering a funding bill that could also include an extension of the Export-Import Bank.

That would introduce a new complication to the fight over highway funding; conservatives in the House want to prevent Ex-Im from moving forward.

Republican leaders said the stopgap measure will buy time to negotiate a long-term highway bill.

“We don’t like patches more than anybody else does,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said. “But this patch is necessary to make sure that [construction] projects don’t stop.”

Democrats complained bitterly about the temporary extension, which is the 34th highway funding patch that has been approved by Congress since 2005.

“If kicking the can down the road was an Olympic sport, what we would win here in the United States Congress, we would win gold, we would win bronze, we’d win silver, and we’d win aluminum,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).

Lawmakers face a July 31 deadline to extend highway funding.

Congress has been grappling with a transportation funding shortfall estimated at about $16 billion per year. Since 2005, lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years.

In the Senate, it is expected that lawmakers will add an Ex-Im extension to the highway funding measure, and then send that package back to the House.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other opponents of the bank have warned GOP leaders against that strategy.

“I’m willing to use any and all procedural tools to stop this corporate welfare and this corruption from being propagated,” Cruz, who is running for his party’s presidential nomination, said at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised to allow opponents of Ex-Im a chance to strip that language from a funding bill if the Senate approves the package. But it is not clear whether opponents would have the votes to win.

Lawmakers are not expected to leave for their August recess without taking action on highway spending.

The main source of transportation funding has been the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, but the tax has not been increased since 1993 and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term infrastructure funding bill, but Republicans have ruled out a tax hike.

The GOP measure approved on Wednesday relies on $3 billion worth of savings from Transportation Security Administration fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures. It would fund road projects through Dec. 18.

Democrats introduced the $478 billion highway bill proposed by President Obama, which also does not contain a gas tax hike, ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

That measure calls for spending $478 billion over the next six years on the nation’s roads and bridges. It would fund some of the spending by revamping the U.S.’s international tax structure, instituting a one-time tax of 14 percent on offshore profits held by American multinational companies.

Republicans and business groups insist that the 14 percent rate is too high, but Ryan, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have said they’re interested in an international tax reform deal that would also tap the offshore profits to pay for a long-term highway bill.

Top GOP senators have made it clear that they won’t just accept the House’s bill, and are still interested in a multi-year bill that would at least get the Highway Trust Fund past the 2016 election.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters that Republicans had carved out enough money to pay for about five years’ worth of highway funding.

“We’re both going at it as best we can, and then ultimately we’ve got to resolve it, between the House and Senate,” Hatch said. “And I think we will.”

—Bernie Becker and Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.