- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The House approved $8 billion in highway funding Wednesday to keep projects moving past a July 31 deadline and buy enough time to negotiate the long-term bill lawmakers really want.

But the measure is now on a collision course with the Senate, where Republicans sketched out a more ambitious bill that would pump tens of billions of dollars in new funding in coming years.

House GOP leaders said they would eventually like a six-year bill. But for now, they asked members to swallow hard and support a five-month extension through Dec. 18, saying negotiations on the bigger bill could take months.

“This bill will give Congress the time it needs to do the job,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said. “I urge the Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible and keep our highways funded.”

The House vote was 312-119, and the additional $8 billion in funding comes from changes to the tax system and by capturing revenue from airport security fees.

Top Senate Republicans haven’t said how long their extension would be, exactly, or if they’ve settled on a way to pay for it, although the Environment and Public Works Committee wrote a six-year template.

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“The leader believes we should do a long-term bill. It’s under development,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

A six-year bill would require Congress to find $90 billion to fill the gap between projected costs and expected revenues from the federal gas tax.

Republicans refuse to raise the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas levy, instead focusing on a bipartisan push for a one-time tax on about $2 trillion in business income lured back to the U.S.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says it will take months to hash out that language, so the short-term fix was needed.

“We don’t like patches anymore than anyone else does,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

House Democrats largely opposed the stop-gap measure, 132 votes to 54, saying the GOP should have long ago settled on a long-term bill.

“If kicking the can down the road was an Olympic sport, we would win gold, we would win silver, we would win bronze and we would win aluminum,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, Florida Democrat said.

The White House, though, said President Obama could stomach Mr. Ryan’s bill so long as Congress settles on a six-year bill before the end of the year.

“The administration will not support continued failure to make the investments the nation needs,” the Office of Management and Budget said.

Notably, the House bill does not reauthorize the federal Export-Import Bank, an agency that financed the sale of U.S. goods to international buyers for decades but is creeping toward a slow death after lawmakers failed to renew its charter last month.

Known in Capitol-speak as Ex-Im, the bank’s supporters say it bolsters more than 160,000 jobs and should be reauthorized as part of any highway bill that comes out of the Senate.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has committed to allowing the bank to be added by amendment to the highway bill during floor debate, and has acknowledged that Ex-Im’s supporters have the votes.

But vocal conservatives want Mr. McConnell and Speaker John A. Boehner to head that off, saying the New Deal-era program has doled out “corporate welfare” for too long and should fade away.

“After 81 years, Congress finally, finally, finally decided to let a wasteful spending program expire,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican who is running for president.

“You’ll notice the sky hasn’t fallen,” he added, peering to the heavens outside the Capitol.

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