Dozens of conservative Republicans on Tuesday voted against a proposal from House GOP leaders to fund federal highway projects through the end of May 2015, a bill that would be paid for by raising taxes on companies and extending customs user fees.
The legislation is the result of a last-ditch scramble to find more federal highway funding before those funds expire in August.
Most of the other alternatives, such as higher gas taxes, were unpalatable to Republicans. That prompted them to lean on short-term funding mechanisms to scrounge up more money and avoid having several states shut down highway funding projects this summer.
But the funding mechanisms in the bill were ridiculed as gimmicks by many conservatives and conservative groups. Heritage Action noted for example that the bill will make changes to company pension funding requirements that increase the taxable income of those companies for 10 years, just to help pay for another 10 months of highway funding.
Roughly $6.4 billion would be generated by that change, and another $3.5 billion would come from extending customs user fees.
Heritage Action argued this week that the House bill is essentially a bailout paid for with higher taxes and fees on Americans, and that the bill misses a chance to reform federal spending patterns.
"Instead of governing by emergency fiat and continually kicking the can down the road, conservative reformers have an opportunity to focus their colleagues and their constituents on a real solution — putting more of this authority in the hands of states and localities and actually reforming highway policy," said Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham on Monday.
Several Republicans agreed — in the final vote, 45 Republicans voted against the bill. The bill was able to pass 367-55 with the help of House Democrats.
The issue was somewhat confusing for Democrats as well. Many were initially opposed to the bill — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — and said Republicans should have tried harder to find a longer-term answer for the rapidly disappearing highway fund.
On Monday, however, the Obama administration put out a statement saying it supports the House bill as a needed short-term measure that will give Congress more time to figure out funding challenges.
"This legislation would provide for continuity of funding for the Highway Trust Fund during the height of the summer construction season and keep Americans at work repairing the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems," the White House said.
Democrats voted 186-10 in favor the bill.