Congress Heading Toward Three-Month U.S. Highway Funding Measure

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during his weekly briefing at the US Capitol, September 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner talked about President Obamas address to the nation last night regarding the terrorist group ISIS.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Congress is moving to consider a three-month extension of U.S. highway funding after Speaker John Boehner said the House would pass a short-term bill and leave for a summer break without taking up the Senate’s plan.

Current highway funding authority lapses after July 31. The Senate has been debating a highway policy bill that includes three years of funding.

“In the meantime, the House is going to send over to us an extension through Oct. 29” and “we’ll see how quickly we can take it up,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said a short-term bill would move “quickly,” signaling that the minority party won’t create roadblocks.

McConnell said lawmakers in both chambers will work on a long-term highway bill after Congress’s August recess.

Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said Boehner told fellow Republicans during a private meeting earlier Tuesday that the plan was to “jam the Senate” by leaving the three-month bill as the only alternative to authorize highway spending. Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, said Boehner used “an expletive” to describe the Senate bill.

“Senator McConnell and I work very closely together on a whole host of issues,” Boehner told reporters after the meeting. “But 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.”

Mass Transit

The House bill would extend highway spending authority through Oct. 29, providing $6 billion for highways and $2 billion for mass transit financed mostly by tightening tax compliance rules.

The Senate measure, H.R. 22, would reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired June 30. The House legislation doesn’t address the Ex-Im Bank.

Regarding the possibility that the Senate will agree to a three-month extension, Republican Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona said, “Unless they want to see the funding lapse then I think they’ll probably do it.”

The House has previously passed a five-month, bipartisan highway funding authorization bill that the Senate hasn’t taken up. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, has repeatedly said the House won’t take up the Senate bill.

The Ex-Im Bank provides loans, loan guarantees and insurance to aid overseas sales by U.S. companies. The 81-year-old bank, renewed without controversy for decades, is opposed by conservative Republicans who say it benefits only a few large corporations that don’t need government assistance.

Not ‘Cataclysmic’

“Based on what I’m hearing in the conference I wouldn’t hold my breath” that the bank would be reauthorized in September, Salmon said. “I think Kevin McCarthy has staked out pretty clearly that he does not want to see Ex-Im renewed,” he said.

Salmon, an Ex-Im supporter, said, “If it comes up on the floor I will support it, but if it doesn’t get reauthorized I don’t think it will be cataclysmic.”

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, said there’s still a chance that Congress would reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank after the August recess.

“The assumption is that it will come back; the Senate will find a way to get Ex-Im over to the House,” Curbelo said in an interview.

“It’s frustrating,” Curbelo said regarding plans for a three-month highway funding extension. “The only thing worse than a three-month extension would be allowing funding to lapse.”

‘Difficult Position’

Representative Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, told Bloomberg reporters and editors Tuesday that delaying action on the Ex-Im Bank until after the August recess is a way for Republicans who oppose reauthorizing it to kill the bank.

“It really does put Ex-Im in a difficult position,” he said.

Republican Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma predicted the bank will be reauthorized.

Not renewing Ex-Im’s charter would be “surrendering a part of your ability to compete in the world,” Lucas said. “At some point, we will miss out on some business opportunity of such magnitude that it will catch the attention of the public, and we will respond.”

Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said language in the short-term highway bill would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to tap about $3.4 billion in funds set aside for other purposes to keep its hospitals open.

That funding was intended to be used by the department’s “choice” program that allows veterans to receive care outside of VA hospitals.

“It’s critical; if we do not full this budget hole their claim is” they will have to shut hospitals and clinics across the country, Miller said in an interview at the Capitol. “It never ceases to amaze me how poorly managed VA’s budget process is.”