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Schumer Casts More Doubt on Big Highway and Tax Deal

Schumer takes questions from reporters Tuesday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer is "not optimistic" about getting a big deal on international taxes to fund a robust highway bill.  

The New York Democrat, who is No. 3 in caucus leadership, has been working with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio to find revenue from an overhaul of international taxation that could fund a surface transportation bill.  

But in a Tuesday interview with CQ Roll Call, Schumer was quite bearish about the odds of getting anything that could be used to finance a surface transportation bill by Oct. 29.  

The biggest problem seems to be the scope of the deal that would be required.  

"It's been a slog, and we're not close. And the reason is, we need a robust highway increase to justify the whole endeavor," Schumer said. "Chairman Ryan I think would like to get there, but he is constrained by all kinds of Republican rules and politics, so it's hard. Right now, I'm not optimistic."  

A Ryan aide said last week talks will continue, but the House's top tax writer recommended Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., move ahead without the more significant level of funding.  

"The level of transportation spending continues to be a significant issue," the aide said. "That's why — with the deadline for extending the highway program approaching — Chairman Ryan has encouraged Chairman Shuster to move forward with a highway bill that does not assume a contribution from international tax reform."  

Schumer said the idea of moving a product through the House more akin to the Senate bill would be less than ideal.  

"The alternative is a shorter-term highway bill such as the Senate has passed. Is it as good? No," Schumer said. "It's only three years. That's not a way to run a highway system. The increases are much too small given the needs of our infrastructure and given the needs for jobs in America, but it's better than nothing."  

Asked if he thought outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, should bring to the floor the Senate-passed highway bill that was the product of negotiations led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Schumer did not dismiss the idea.  

"I'd like to get as robust a highway bill as we can get, and I don't how it'll all play out, but I have a little more faith in Speaker Boehner getting there than the future leadership," Schumer said.  

Schumer nonetheless praised the Senate's transportation bill negotiators for their efforts, including Boxer, the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee.  

"Look, I salute Barbara Boxer and the others who worked on it. They were under very difficult constraints. It's not as robust as any of us, including Sen. Boxer would like. In fact, Sen. Boxer was hoping that our proposal, the tax reform idea that – Congressman Ryan and I were working on — would be added on to their bill."  

The Senate-passed measure would also revive the lapsed authorization for the Export-Import Bank. An effort in the House would give a path forward for a standalone vote on that, but the prospects for a standalone bill in the Senate are dim.

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