House Republicans say they will reject a Senate-passed highway funding bill and send a House-passed bill back to the Senate this week, just days before the House plans to leave for the August break.
The GOP’s rejection of the Senate bill raises the prospect that Congress will leave for the August break without passing any bill at all. That could mean states would start seeing less federal funding for highway projects in August, since the federal highway trust fund is due to expire next month.
Earlier this month, the House passed a highway funding bill offering nearly $11 billion in funding for highway projects through next May. Most of that money would be generated by increasing taxes on companies, and extending customs user fees — those provisions are part of the reason that a few dozen Republicans voted against it.
On Tuesday night, the Senate passed an altered version that, among other things, only provides funding through this December. Supporters of that change said it would put more pressure on Congress to come up with a longer-term funding plan.
Republicans were already warning on Tuesday that they would not consider the Senate changes. On Wednesday, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cited a report from Transportation Weekly that said the Senate bill is not fully paid for, and would lead to another $2 billion in the debt if approved.
“The Senate-passed highway bill contains a critical error, and is not fully offset through December 19,” Spokesman Michael Steel said Wednesday. “The only responsible course is for the Senate to pass the original House-passed highway bill, which we will soon send back to them.”
House Republicans have occasionally used the time pressure of pending vacations to quickly approve bills and leave them for the Senate to either accept or reject. In this case, the GOP is putting real pressure on Senate Democrats to accept the House version, since failing to do so runs the risk that states receive less highway money.
The Republican strategy would seem to have a decent chance of working. In mid-July, Democrats voted 186-10 in favor of the highway bill, a sign that Senate Democrats may well choose to approve the House bill rather than let the trust fund expire.