Senate votes to carry on with 6-year transportation funding bill

Updated Jul 27, 2015

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The Senate DRIVE Act is out of limbo after a 62-36 vote late Wednesday evening that will allow the bill to move forward. The DRIVE Act would guarantee the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund for three years.

Democrats held a caucus Wednesday to hear from members of Finance, Commerce, Energy, and Banking committees on their assessment of the bill. “We’ve worked through the night and I think we have a basic understanding of it,” said Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada). “It’s my hope that we can work our way through all the issues dealing with this legislation.”

“There are some significant issues, I’ve already been alerted by my staff, and some of the pay-fors are somewhat questionable,” he added. “Before we start drawing lines in the sand here, let’s see if we can figure out a way to get this done.”

Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) ran through a series of examples of bridges needing repair throughout the country, calling out the Senators whose structures highlighted in his presentation.

“This is a bill I perceive as a ‘must pass’ bill,” he said. “This will be my sixth highway bill, and I can tell you these bills are about compromise. The bill is too important to play politics with.”

Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) highlighted the bipartisan aspect of the initial agreement of the bill, touting his collaboration with Barbara Boxer (D-California).

“Some people might be a little shocked to see the Senator from California and I working across the aisle to put this bill together,” he said. “But my view is, if you agree on a policy that’s good for the American people, you should be willing to look past the D or an R next to someone’s name to get it enacted. Senators from both parties know that a long-term highway bill is in the best interest of our country.”

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is keen on the three-year guarantee for the HTF.

“The measure would also aid states in long-term planning by distributing six years of contract authority, which also provides Congress the additional time some claim is still needed to develop a permanent solution to stabilize and grow Highway Trust Fund revenue,” ARTBA President Peter Ruane wrote in a letter to the Senate.

“After six Highway Trust Fund revenue shortfalls in the last eight years, Congress now has a chance to deliver three-years of reliable highway and public transportation investments and provide states a six­ year reauthorization plan with common sense policy reforms,” he added.

Even if the bill passes through the Senate, it still must follow procedure through the House, where it does not appear to have much support.

According to a report by The Hill, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) does not favor the bill, but said conference negotiation might be an option.

“There’s ways to deal with it. You can go to conference. We can do ours,” he said. “But I don’t see the Senate (bill) flying in the House.”

Members of the House last week passed a six-month extension for the HTF, a measure that would provide $8 billion, which would last until Dec. 18.