House drives Highway Trust Fund partial refill down the road, but Senate could apply the brakes before the July 31 deadline
The federal fund that supplies money to build and repair road and other U.S. infrastructure runs out of money on July 31.
With that deadline fast approaching, the House on Wednesday, July 15, approved a bill that would provide money for the Highway Trust Fund through Dec. 18.
The Senate, however, is less interested in a short-term fix and that chamber could put the brakes on the House plan.
Senate leaders are looking instead at a funding solution that would get transportation issues out of the way through 2016.
Yes, fellow cynics can join me in noting that the Senate's longer-term proposal would remove America's crappy roads and crumbling bridges from the already-underway 2016 election campaign discussions.
UPDATE, July 31, 2015: House and Senate agree to, and President Obama signs, a temporary highway funding bill (with permanent tax provisions) that runs through the end of October.
Fund refilled through Dec. 18: The House's short-term funding plan was approved by a 312-to-119 bipartisan vote.
Around $5 billion for the federal highway account would come from new tax compliance rules, such as increased lender disclosure on outstanding mortgages and tighter requirements for reporting the original value of property in calculating capital gains and estate taxes. Another $3 billion would come from spending cuts.
And no, there is no increase in the bill of the 22-year-old 18.4 cent federal gasoline tax.
Officially, supporters of the bill, which include House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), is needed so that Congress has time to work out a more comprehensive and longer-term highway bill.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate has been working on a six-year surface transportation bill, but those lawmakers haven't come up with ways to pay for the longer-term measure. Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is hopeful that his chamber can come up with a plan that could be considered next week.
Tangled in the tax code: Many of the House bill's supporters, including Ryan, also see the short-term extension as a mechanism to move stalled overall tax reform efforts, specifically changes on the business side.
"Why are we here doing this patch?" Ryan asked during floor debate of the bill. "So that we can give ourselves the time to do corporate tax reform."
As for incorporating the highway funding in a revamp of the tax code, many in the Senate doubt that will happen. With the year already half over, the time frame for working out complicated tax provisions is rapidly shrinking.
Senators fear that Congress could yet again find itself in a December showdown on taxes and/or highways.
Plus, and fellow cynics gather around once again, some lawmakers aren't anxious to complete tax reform before the next election cycle. It's always easier to campaign on promises to fix something than it is to defend changes that some voters might not like.
Regardless of their differing points of view, the House and Senate must reach some agreement on highway funding route by July 31.
I'm betting Senators will give in to their House colleagues.
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