• Transportation Bill Advances in Senate
  • July 31, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • On Wednesday, the Senate passed an important procedural hurdle, voting for cloture by a vote of 62 to 36. Despite the vote, hurdles remain for the bill.

    The Senate bill under consideration would extend the highway trust fund for six years, but provides funding for only the first three years. The pay-fors the Senate does identify include a $16.3 billion proposal derived from cutting dividends paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks, another $9 billion would come from a drawdown and sale of excess oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

    The bill also generates $1.9 billion from extending mortgage lenders' guarantee fees that were set to drop, $4 billion by indexing customs fees to inflation, and $3.5 billion by changing where fees from the Transportation Security Administration go, among others. The bill also gets money through changes to the estate tax, mortgage-lending requirements, and by rescinding unused funds from the stimulus package.

    While the cloture vote is a good sign for supporters of the bill, the Senate now must deal with contentious amendments on immigration, the Affordable Care Act, guns, the re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

    To avoid a messy flurry of divisive amendments, Sen. Mitch McConnell might employ a parliamentary procedure known as "filling the tree" that would allow for a vote on the Export-Import bank reauthorization - something McConnell has promised to Senate Democrats - but would avoid votes on other amendments.

    Congress only has until the end of the month to extend the fund that reimburses states for transportation projects. No matter what happens in the Senate, leaders on both sides of the aisle in the House say a long-term reauthorization is not happening; both Democrats and Republicans in the lower chamber prefer a short-term extension.

    The Highway Trust Fund is primarily funded through an 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax that hasn't been raised since 1993. Despite more fuel-efficient vehicles and the fund consistently threatening to run dry, raising the tax was a nonstarter for Republicans and some Democrats.