Senate again puts bandaid on highway funding

The Senate again voted to pass a stopgap bill funding the highways, mass transit systems, and bridge repair and construction for the next three months. This is the 34th time such a bill has been passed in the last six years.

Without another extension the current highway spending extension would have expired on Friday. Wednesday the House took action before leaving for the August recess; the Senate then passed the bill 91-4 on Thursday. The next step is for President Obama to sign the bill.

“The multi-year nature of this legislation is one of its most critical components,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It’s also something the House and Senate are now united on.”

However the White House seems to think the problem lies with Republicans leaving for the August Recess.

“The real problem is that House Republicans have skipped town and started their vacation even though they have a lot of important work to do,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer wants to see a long-term deal done as soon as possible, but sees some important obstacles to overcome. One such obstacle is how to fund portions of the bill. Currently the plan is to reduce dividends to banks from the Federal Reserve, a motion that the banking industry opposes.

The long-term deal also tightens the screws on auto manufacturers, tripling the maximum safety violation fine amount to $105 million per incident. Rental companies will also be unable to rent cars with unresolved safety issues.

The bill would also return funding to the U.S. Export-Import Bank which has been unable to perform any functions since their funding expired on June 30. Some conservative Republicans oppose the bill, but they are in the minority.

“Any time you have something that substantially more than 60 senators and a majority of the House members want, it is highly likely that it gets done,” Senator Roy Blunt said.

The Ex-Im authorization affects large manufacturers like Boeing Co. and General Electric that said without the bank they are unable to compete with overseas competitors and as a result may need to move jobs out of country without a renewal for the Ex-Im Bank.

Most importantly the bill fills the gap between the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax. The tax no longer covers all the costs of transportation, and Republicans have resolutely refused to even consider raising that tax.