Senate Advances Three-Year Highway Funding Bill Renewing Ex-Im

Vehicles move along the Interstate 405 freeway during rush hour in this aerial photograph taken over the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Friday, July 10, 2015.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate advanced its version of a long-term highway funding bill Wednesday as Congress prepares a stopgap measure to keep funds flowing for the next three months.

Senators voted 65-35 to move ahead with legislation that would provide three years of highway funding and renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s charter, which expired June 30, through September 2019. House leaders have said they won’t consider the Senate measure.

The Senate and House also plan to vote this week on a three-month extension of highway funding, with current authority expiring after Friday.

A final vote on the Senate’s multi-year proposal is set for Thursday. When Congress returns to Washington after an August recess that bill will go to conference committee negotiations with the House, which passed a five-month highway measure that didn’t renew the Ex-Im Bank. The House has said it is also seeking a longer-term bill.

“We’ll have a conference, we’ll try to work out the differences and we’ll try to agree on how to pay for it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Washington Tuesday. “That’s the way it normally works around here.”

The Highway Trust Fund’s authorization is set to expire after July 31. Failure to pass a bill with new funding by then may require payments for road and bridge projects to be reduced and spread out, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week.

Mass Transit

To prevent that, Congress is considering a bill to extend highway funding through Oct. 29. The House plans to vote later Wednesday on that measure, which would provide $6 billion for highways and $2 billion for mass transit financed mostly by tightening tax compliance rules.

“We’ll see how quickly we can take it up” in the Senate, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday.

The House’s earlier plan, H.R. 3038, would fund highways through Dec. 18 with $8.1 billion. The measure is intended to buy time for talks on finding longer-term sources of money for infrastructure, including international tax changes.

The Senate’s three-year plan, H.R. 22, is opposed by the banking industry because it would fund highways partly by reducing dividends to banks from the Federal Reserve.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama also opposes the proposal to reduce the 6 percent dividend paid by the Fed to member banks. The dividend would be cut to 1.5 percent for banks with more than $1 billion in assets, which is expected to generate more than $16 billion for the highway fund.

Ex-Im Bank

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.

Because its charter has expired, the bank can’t approve new applications for financial support unless Congress acts to revive it, though it can continue work on existing agreements.

Large manufacturers including Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Fairfield, Connecticut’s General Electric Co., have said the lapse in the bank’s charter puts them at risk of losing sales to competitors in Europe, Brazil, Japan and China who can get government-backed financing. GE and Boeing have said they might move job overseas if Congress doesn’t reauthorize Ex-Im.

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