Mon. 7:27 p.m.: House leader rules out Senate version of highway bill
WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said today that the House will not consider the Senate version of a long-term, must-pass highway bill, setting up an apparent impasse as Congress faces a Friday deadline.
The Senate’s version of the highway bill, which is on track to pass later in the week, sets policy and authorizes transportation programs for six years, though with funding for only three of those years. The Senate also is moving toward reviving the federal Export-Import Bank and adding it to the bill.
The House has passed a five-month extension of transportation programs without the Export-Import Bank.
“We’re not taking up the Senate bill,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters. Pressed on whether he was ruling it out, he said, “Yes.”
If Congress doesn’t act by Friday, states will lose money for highway and transit projects in the middle of the summer construction season.
One of the most contentious issues is the Export-Import Bank. In the Senate on Sunday, an amendment reviving the obscure federal agency advanced over a procedural hurdle by a vote of 67-26, and it was likely to win approval today to be included on the highway bill. But that was only after senior Senate Republicans publicly rebuked Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who last week accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of lying to him about whether there was a deal to allow the vote on the Export-Import Bank.
Conservatives strongly oppose the bank, calling it corporate welfare, and are trying to ensure that it stays dead after congressional inaction allowed it to expire June 30.
Three of the Senate’s highest-ranking Republicans rose after the Senate convened Sunday afternoon to counter the stunning floor speech Cruz gave on Friday in which he attacked McConnell, R-Ky.
“Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated in other venues and perhaps on the campaign trail, but they have no place among colleagues in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate’s president pro tempore. Cruz is running for president.
“Such misuses of the Senate floor must not be tolerated.”
After Hatch spoke, Cruz rose to defend himself, asserting, “Speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility.”
For his part, McConnell said that given support for the Export-Import Bank, despite his own opposition no “special deal” was needed to bring it to a vote.
The bank is a federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers to buy U.S. goods. It’s been renewed in the past with little or no controversy, but in recent years conservatives have turned it into a rallying cry. This year, the billionaire GOP donor Koch brothers have made it a focus.
The action came as the Senate tries to complete work on the highway bill ahead of a July 31 deadline.