- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Congress tentatively ended its game of chicken over highway funding Tuesday, as Senate leaders signaled they’ll take up a short-term House bill to keep road projects alive and paper over a rift between GOP leaders on either side of the Capitol.

The House will vote Wednesday to fund highways through Oct. 29 and fill a $3.3 billion budget hole at the Veterans Administration, so it does not have to close hospitals and clinics.

The Senate is expected to take up the three-month extension before it leaves for an August recess. Otherwise, it could be blamed for blowing past Friday’s deadline to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

“We will see when we get it and see how quickly we can take it up,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said of the anticipated House bill.

The House will then forge ahead with its plans for a multiyear highway bill when it returns from the August break, setting up a legislative conference this fall to meld the two versions.

“We’ll try to work out the differences and we’ll try to agree on how to pay for it,” Mr. McConnell said . “That’s the way it normally works around here.”

GOP leaders in either chamber had struggled to see eye-to-eye on how to extend the Highway Trust Fund before the July 31 deadline.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the House would refuse to consider a six-year bill that Mr. McConnell brokered with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, saying even if the other chamber got it done, it would be impossible for his troops to study a 1,000-page deal before they left town Thursday.

The House is eyeing a long-term deal that would rely on a one-time tax on business income brought back to the U.S. from overseas. Already, it passed a bill that extends roads funding through mid-December, saying it would buy enough time to craft the international tax reforms.

Mr. McConnell rejected that offer and forged ahead with a six-year bill, although he only cobbled together enough money to pay for half of it. He wants the Senate to finish its long-term bill before it takes up the House’s stop-gap measure to get Congress through recess.

“There are times when, you know, the Senate has to do what the Senate has to do and the House has to do what it has to do,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said.

He said the two sides don’t disagree often, and “it’s just that it’s happening this week.”

The new strategy sets up a busy autumn on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers will negotiate a highway bill and vote on a nuclear deal with Iran, while trying to avert a government shutdown.

Democrats blasted the 11th-hour maneuvering as another example of “management by crisis” in the GOP-led Congress, citing the lack of an agreement to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.

“Once again, we’ve reached another deadline,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said.

Republicans, though, characterized the roads negotiations as a breakthrough after years of short-term patches to the Highway Trust Fund.

“We’ve been trying to do this for four years, it’s time to get it across the finish line, and I’m going to do everything I can to get to a long-term highway bill by the end of October,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said.

The new House bill does not revive the federal Export-Import Bank, an expired agency the Senate voted to revive late Monday through its version of the highway bill.

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.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Tuesday he will urge reluctant GOP leaders to allow his side to offer an Ex-Im amendment to the new roads bill.

“It is irresponsible to not have put the Export-Import Bank on the floor of the House for a vote,” he said.

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