President Obama signs short-term highway fund bill

In the end the Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Mitch McConnell, was forced to blink in his game of chicken with the Tea-Publican radicals in the House. The Wall Street Journal reports, Senate Passes Three-Month Highway Spending Bill:

Screenshot from 2015-01-25 15:31:49The Senate cleared a three-month highway spending bill in a 91-4 vote that allows Congress to avoid a cutoff of transportation funds set to occur on Saturday and give lawmakers time to develop the sort of multiyear package they haven’t been able to pass in years.

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With the longer-term in mind, the Senate also passed by 65-34 a bill that would continue highway programs for six years. That measure would likely serve as the Senate’s opening volley in what are expected to be contentious negotiations with the House this fall, when lawmakers return from a recess.

This would be the same six year Senate bill that the House GOP leadership said would not be put to a vote in the House.

The question is whether the two chambers, which have taken sharply different approaches, can work out a multiyear package by the end of October, when the three-month patch would expire.

Republican leaders are eager to pass a long-term highway bill to prove they can govern now that they control both chambers. So far, however, they have delivered only two short-term patches. The last one had extended the program for two months through July 31.

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House Republicans are pursuing an alternative plan that would be linked to an overhaul of the system for taxing American multinational companies and would use a one-time tax on profits parked overseas to fund a six-year highway bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R, Ky.) has rejected that approach and used a grab bag of maneuvers to offset the cost of the six-year highway bill.

Senate Republicans said their own six-year highway bill, which includes three years of funding, was an important accomplishment that showed progress toward the most ambitious highway bill in a decade. The last big highway-spending bill passed in 2005.

“We all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in a conference later this year,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. He said passing the three-month bill would give the House space to develop its own plan.

House Republicans have rejected the long-term Senate bill mostly because it extends the Highway Trust Fund for six years but only provides funding for half of that period.

The legislation backed by Mr. McConnell would pay for the cost of replenishing the Highway Trust Fund in the first three years in part by selling oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile and by cutting the dividend the Federal Reserve’s regional banks pay on stock that private-sector banks hold as members of the system. There is no provision yet for funding the final three years of that plan.

Some lawmakers say the funding proposals are bad ideas, and others dislike them out of principle, saying Congress needs to come up with a sustainable funding source for the Highway Trust Fund and end the ritual of passing temporary patches to shore up the program.

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Another point of contention involves the Export-Import Bank. The Senate tacked on an amendment to its long-term highway bill to renew the charter of the bank, which lapsed earlier this year.

The bank provides financing for foreign customers of U.S. companies, but conservatives say the bank distorts markets and unfairly helps a small group of businesses at taxpayer expense. Any negotiations between the two chambers over long-term highway funding could thrust the bank back into the spotlight.

President Obama scolded Congress today at highway bill signing:

President Obama on Friday signed a three-month stopgap bill preventing federal highway funding from drying up, but blasted lawmakers for failing to agree on a long-term measure.

“We can’t keep on funding transportation by the seat of our pants,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. “That’s just not how the greatest country [in the world] does business. I guarantee you that’s not how China, Germany and other countries around the world handle their infrastructure.”

Obama, who has long pushed for a multi-year highway bill, said he had no choice but to sign the short-term measure to prevent an interruption of money for roads and bridges during the busy summer construction season.

The president also chided Congress for failing to renew the Export-Import Bank, which was left out of the highway bill against the White House’s wishes, and for making little progress on budget talks.

“We should not be leaving all the business of the U.S. government until the last minute,” he said.

Obama said the Ex-Im Bank “creates tens of thousands of jobs across the country” and argued its lapsed charter hurts businesses large and small.

The $8 billion package signed by Obama extends infrastructure spending until Oct. 29, punting the debate until fall. Money for surface transportation projects was set to expire on Friday.

We’ll see if the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight can get their act together when they come back from recess in September. I am not optimistic.

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