The House of Representatives easily passed a bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through next May, handing a brutal defeat to conservative groups that urged Republican members to oppose the plan.
In a broadly bipartisan vote of 367-55, the House passed the bill to avert what some lawmakers have referred to as a “highway shutdown” or “construction shutdown.” The Obama administration warned the pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the crisis has worried Washington and Wall Street for months.
In all, 181 Republicans and 186 Democrats voted for the House’s plan. Only 45 Republicans and 10 Democrats opposed.
The Senate could now counter by voting on its own bill, which is being authored by the Senate Finance Committee and differs only slightly from the House’s legislation. Or it could simply vote on the House’s plan. The White House signaled reluctant support for the House GOP-led bill, saying it supports a long-term infrastructure solution but hinting President Barack Obama would sign the bill if it made it to his desk.
The overwhelming vote was a setback to conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which opposed the plan and threatened members of Congress by “key voting” the bill on their scorecards and making it a heavily weighted factor in their letter grades for lawmakers. However, the groups are already gearing up for a broad fight over the future of federal transportation policy next year.
“No one really believes today’s bill, which is chock full of gimmicks and revenue raisers, represents good policy. But the specter of a crisis, no matter how overstated, occasionally causes solid conservatives to cast votes based on factors other than the underlying policy,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action.
On Tuesday, the groups and lawmakers who supported the plan and expected its passage urged Congress to immediately work toward a longer-term solution on infrastructure. During a speech in McLean, Virginia, Obama pushed his administration’s four-year, $US302 billion transportation plan that would be offset through eliminating certain tax loopholes.
“All this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now,” Obama said of the House bill. “So Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure. Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be investing in the future.”
The House bill, which injects more than $US10 billion of cash into the Highway Trust Fund, is “offset” through two main provisions, both of which have received bipartisan support in Congress but broad outside opposition:
• “Pension smoothing,” which permits employers to delay contributions to employee pension plans, thereby increasing taxable corporate income and generating revenue for the Treasury ($6.4 billion).
• Customs user fees, a provision in last year’s bipartisan budget deal that allows the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to collect certain fees ($3.5 billion).
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