Transportation bill advances in Senate

From U.S. News and World Report and the A.P.

The Senate agreed Wednesday to take up a sweeping transportation bill a little over a week before states will face a cutoff of highway and transit aid in the middle of the summer construction season.

The GOP-drafted bill would set policy and authorize transportation programs for six years, but provides only enough to pay for the programs for three years.

The vote was 62 to 36. Sixty votes were necessary to proceed.

Despite an array of concerns Democrats voiced with the bill over the past two days — including that some provisions may undermine safety, that transit programs didn’t received their fair share of funding and that the spending offsets include budget gimmickry — 14 Democrats and two independents joined with 46 Republicans to go forward with the bill.

“The bill still needs some fixing but tonight it was a question of whether or not we even have a bill to fix,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. “If we don’t have a long-term highway funding bill, we won’t have the money we need to repair and build roads and bridges.”

The vote puts the Senate on a path toward likely passage of the measure by the middle of next week. That would set up a possible confrontation with the House, which has passed a five-month extension of transportation programs. GOP leaders there expressed reluctance to take up a Senate bill of more than 1,000 pages that they’ve only had days to consider. They say they could do a better job of drafting a long-term bill themselves if given a few more months.

“I don’t see the Senate (bill) flying in the House,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters earlier in the day.

An amendment to renew the authority of the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired at the end of June, is expected to be offered to the bill. The bank, which helps U.S. companies sell their products overseas, has been largely non-controversial over the years, but conservatives recently targeted it as an example of what they called “crony capitalism.”

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