- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2015

House and Senate leaders refused to blink Monday in a cross-Capitol standoff over highway funding, edging Congress perilously close to a Friday deadline to keep road projects moving before lawmakers skip town for their August recess.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy shut the door to a six-year bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brokered with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, saying even if the other chamber gets it done this week, it would be impossible for his troops to study a 1,000-page deal before the House leaves Thursday night.

“We’re not taking up the Senate bill,” Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, said, noting his chamber already passed a five-month roads bill to buy time for the long-term deal everyone wants.

Senate negotiators barreled forward anyway, saying Congress’ reliance on short-term patches has cast uncertainty over state and local projects.

“If we have a bill, we’re sending it,” said Ms. Boxer of California, arguing it would be the House’s choice to leave town without acting on it.

The standoff leaves the fate of highway projects and the expired Export-Import Bank in limbo, even as the Senate voted late Monday to revive the bank, 64 votes to 29, as part of the roads package.

An amendment to repeal Obamacare was dispensed with Monday as out of order — without a fight from leading conservatives — after it had fallen in a procedural vote, 49-43, on Sunday, or well short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

A product of the New Deal, the bank known as “Ex-Im” financed the sale of U.S. goods overseas for decades before its charter lapsed on June 30, meaning it cannot take on new business. Conservatives say the bank is a crooked source of corporate welfare, while the White House and other supporters say it bolstered job creation and must be resurrected as part of any highway bill.

Opposition to the bank has become a litmus test for GOP candidates for president. One of them, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, brazenly accused Mr. McConnell on Friday of lying when he told him there was no deal in the works to revive the agency.

Senior Republicans rebuked Mr. Cruz from the floor Sunday, saying the Senate’s rules of comity are an integral part of how the body operates, although the Texan stood his ground and said “speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility.”

Late Monday, Mr. Cruz said he couldn’t tell the difference between Republican rule today and when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, ran the chamber.

“What we have today is the McConnell-Reid leadership team,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Some Republicans said Mr. Cruz was simply mistaken about the chain of events, in that Mr. McConnell only offered Ex-Im’s supporters an opportunity to amend a future bill.

Senate Democrats piled on Mr. McConnell Monday, saying he ignored their plea to debate the highway bill sooner and avoid these problems.

Meanwhile, House Democrats waited in the wings, hoping to get a chance to revive Ex-Im at some point.

“With 180 Democrats signed onto a discharge petition and 60 Republicans co-sponsoring a multiyear reauthorization bill, a clear majority of the House supports reopening the Ex-Im Bank,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said. “I continue to urge House Republican leaders to allow a vote to reopen the bank this week.”

While Ex-Im enjoys majority support in both chambers, key House Republicans such as Mr. McCarthy oppose it, giving them yet another reason to deflect the Senate’s attempt to jam them with a six-year highway deal.

The House ignored the bank in its bill to extend highway funding through mid-December. They’re eyeing a long-term roads deal that would rely on a one-time tax on business income brought back to the U.S. from overseas.

Mr. McCarthy said the Senate only paid for the first three years of its six-year bill, and that an alternate route forward — a two-month extension — wouldn’t be much different than the five-month bill House lawmakers sent to the Senate.

“We did this three weeks ahead of time. We’ve been very clear,” he told reporters, saying the only way forward is for the Senate to take up his chamber’s bill.

But Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Monday the Senate must finish its work.

“Jobs are on the line. Important infrastructure projects are too,” Mr. McConnell said. “So we have to get the job done — and we are.”

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