With the Senate still working through a six-year highway bill, and with just four scheduled legislative days before the Highway Trust Fund runs dry — and the August recess begins — House leaders, Republican and Democratic, are sending a unified message to the Senate: Take our highway bill. Please.
Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi each separately used their individual news conferences to urge the Senate to put its six-year bill on the back burner and take up the five-month House-passed highway patch instead.
"The clock is ticking, time is running out on the Highway Trust Fund," Pelosi said Thursday.
Pelosi Urges Senate to Pass Short-Term Highway Bill
The California Democrat said the hope was that the Senate would take the House bill, attach a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and send it back to the House. "Instead now they're saying it'd have to be on a long-term bill, which cannot possibly be finished by the 31st of July," she said.
Pelosi noted she believed it was Boehner's hope that it wouldn't take five months to come up with a long-term highway bill, that Congress could perhaps come to an agreement in two or three months. But she didn't seem to think the Senate's time frame of a week was realistic. When a reporter noted that it sounded like Pelosi was against the Senate's bill, Pelosi said, "I didn't say I was opposed to it. I'm just saying it's not going to be done by the end of next week."
But Pelosi did say she didn't like several of the offsets used for the legislation, and that the amendment process on the bill could be lengthy in the Senate.
Complicating the issue is the Ex-Im Bank. Conservatives in the Senate — most notably Ted Cruz, R-Texas — have said they'll use any and all procedural tools to prevent an Export-Import Bank reauthorization. A filibuster over the export-credit agency could prolong the already slow Senate, and it seems to make little difference to Cruz and company if an Ex-Im reauthorization were on a five-month bill or a six-year bill; they're still going to do everything they can to oppose it.
Therefore, from the Senate's perspective, you might as well get through the six-year bill as fast as you can and disregard that you might be cutting into the House's vacation if you deliver a highway bill late next week. The problem — and the question — is whether the House would substantively change the Senate's highway bill and send it back over. As Boehner said Thursday: "There's a lot of concern being raised by committee chairmen and others about the policy that's contained in the bill the Senate is considering."
If the House intended to amend the bill, the legislative pingpong — not to mention the potential hiccups House conservatives could cause over an expected Ex-Im reauthorization in the highway bill — could drag on for days past the Highway Trust Fund deadline.
For now, the official House Republican position seems to be that the Senate should just pass their five-month bill, without an Ex-Im Bank renewal. But facing long odds on that chance, Boehner said he'd wait and see what the Senate produces before actually jamming the upper chamber and refusing to take up their bill.
"We don't know what that bill is going to look like until they pass it," Boehner said, "and until they do, I think I'll reserve judgment on how we'll proceed."
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