Lawmakers Divided Over Highway Bill

Members of Congress returned to Washington to begin a four-week work period where they will need to address a number of significant policy matters, including funding the Highway Trust Fund, before the annual August recess.

House and Senate leaders are poised for an uphill battle over transportation funding as lawmakers faced with a looming July 31 deadline continue to disagree over how to fund the nation’s infrastructure program and how long an infrastructure package should last. 

The Department of Transportation has said the Trust Fund will run out of money at the end of July if Congress does not pass a funding extension. There is disagreement in Congress – between Republicans and Democrats as well as between the Senate and the House – over how the government should structure and pay for an infrastructure package.

While the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously approved a six-year highway bill in June, there is little chance that Congress can come up with the approximately $90 billion needed to fully fund that legislation.

Instead, Senate Republican leadership remains hopeful that Congress can enact at least a two-year extension before the end of the current Congressional work period, bringing it past the next presidential election. 

House Republicans, however, want to pass a short-term extension to give lawmakers time to hash out a six-year highway funding bill in 2015.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said July 10 that he’s still focused on pairing changes to the international tax system with a long-term highway bill this year.

Chairman Ryan is reportedly working closely with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to build bipartisan support for a deal that would revise rules that discourage American multinational corporations from bringing home foreign profits. The expectation is that by lowering the tax rate on such “repatriated” funds more companies would bring foreign earnings to the United States, and the resulting tax revenue would pay for the highway program.

Many in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.), are skeptical of this approach.

Adding to the situation’s complexity are the plethora of other issues Congress must address this month. The highway bill, for example, is expected to become a legislative vehicle for an ongoing dispute over whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired July 1. 



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