Highway Bill That Would Outsource Tax Debt Collection Clears First of Many Hurdles
The Senate voted to move forward on a six-year measure, but lots of amendments and a different House plan await.
The Senate passed its first hurdle Wednesday in sending the House a long-term transportation bill before the August recess. But there are many more to come.
The bill to extend the Highway Trust Fund for six years—though only paying it for three—passed 62-36 in a Wednesday evening vote after the legislation hit a procedural snag a day earlier. But much more is in store for the bill, including anticipated contentious amendments on immigration, the Affordable Care Act, guns, and Planned Parenthood from 2016 presidential candidates and others.
Congress only has until the end of the month to extend the fund that reimburses states for transportation projects. And once again, the House and the Senate are at odds—and before the recess. The House passed a five-month extension, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the lower chamber won't take up the Senate's version.
Aside from all the amendments that senators hope to tack on, Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz had an additional demand. Cruz said he would utilize "every procedural tool that we have" to ensure that the Export-Import bank would not be tied to the highway measure. That included the possibility that Cruz could slow things down so much that the Highway Trust Fund would expire.
"In my view there are far more pressing issues for the American people than reauthorizing a giant tax giveaway to a handful of major corporations," Cruz said.
The bipartisan bill hit a snag soon after it was unveiled Tuesday afternoon. Republicans were worried about how the Highway Trust Fund would be financed. And every Democrat voted against the measure, saying they didn't have enough time to read over the bill. Their caucus then met Wednesday to talk over the legislation and their issues with it.
"We've got a 1,000-page bill," Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski said. "We have a lot of back and forth, so with a 1,000-page bill there were concerns that I had with safety issues, the transit issues, and how it fairs for Maryland. What they've done since the lunch now I don't know."
Sen. Thomas Carper voted "no," and said that "we're like operating in the dark."
"The bill was not read, we don't understand all the offsets," the Delaware Democrat said. "Questions about the policy and to vote something to which we're not really very familiar, probably one of the most important bills we'll consider this year … doesn't sound like a very good deal to me."
In one controversial provision, the Senate bill would raise $2.4 billion by handing the task of tax collection over to private companies.
Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Lankford said he voted "yes" in order to let the Senate debate the bill—and then he'll see what the legislation looks like in the end, as the deadline looms closer.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said that he had changed his vote for cloture because he decided the bill was "worth of a further conversation." Still, he said he may ultimately vote "no" on the underlying bill.
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