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Highway Bill Might Be Senate's Last Accomplishment Before August

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate's on the road to shipping the House a six-year highway bill before leaving for August recess, despite the fact House members won't be around to debate it.  

Senators voted Wednesday morning to clear the final major procedural hurdle on the highway measure, but that could be the chamber's last significant bill before the August recess, even with the Senate planning to stick around for another week. Other than advancing a three-month bill to keep transportation programs running past the end of July, there's little thus far on the schedule for the first week of August. A procedural vote to take up GOP legislation to bar federal funding to Planned Parenthood could come as early as Monday.  

"Let's not filibuster women’s health in order to protect special subsidies for one scandal-plagued political organization," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, knowing full well the expected outcome.  

But whether anything substantive is able to advance after the predictable blockade of a motion to proceed to the Planned Parenthood measure is a real question mark. Some Republicans want another test vote on taking up one of the dozen appropriations bills before leaving for August, knowing the budget battle that awaits in September.  

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., acknowledged the obvious Wednesday when she said there appeared to be no way forward to revive the expired charter for the Export-Import Bank.  

"Well, it's unfortunate that it's a pawn in a larger effort to just try to move transportation legislation," Cantwell said. "American jobs are at stake, and people would rather, you know, try to use it as opposed to just getting it reauthorized. So, I hope that people will come to their senses and get it reauthorized as soon as possible."  

Over at the White House, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz blasted Republicans for having the "gall" to leave the Capitol for August recess without resolving the Export-Import Bank matter or addressing cybersecurity challenges.  

"Right now what they're focused on is an ideological rider to defund Planned Parenthood. They're dealing with strife within their own party, and they're leaving town early to get ahead on their six-week break," Schultz said. "If you put that side by side with their inability to authorize Ex-IM Bank, that we're on the precipice of the Highway Trust Fund in the height of construction season, and that they have the gall to leave town without even touching cybersecurity legislation, we think that's revelatory too of their priorities." But Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz cheered the continued lapse in the bank, despite the overwhelming Senate vote to add a reauthorization to the long-term highway programs bill. "I am very glad that as a result of our fight against the Ex-Im Bank, it appears clear that at least for a couple of months, it will remain out of the business of corporate welfare and cronyism," the Texas senator told CQ Roll Call. "It is my hope that conservatives in the House continue to rally around the principles on which we were elected and allow this Republican Congress to achieve a real victory ending corporate welfare and cronyism."  

Cruz had pushed against adding the Export-Import Bank measure to the larger highway bill, but his side was soundly defeated. Still, without the House taking up a revival, the agency's authority will remain lapsed at least through Labor Day.  

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