Thursday, July 10, 2014

Senate Nears Agreement on Highway Trust Fund

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WASHINGTON — The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Finance Committee neared agreement Thursday on legislation to keep the federal highway trust fund from going broke next month, setting up a clash with the House just weeks before the deadline.
The deal between Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman, and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican, will be formally drafted on Thursday, just hours after the House Ways and Means Committee marks up its competing version.
It relies on many of the same elements of the Ways and Means Committee proposal: prolonging customs fees on importers that would otherwise expire, taking money from a separate trust fund for fixing underground storage tanks and changing rules on private pension contributions.
But the Senate proposal adds many smaller provisions that House Republicans have rejected, like extending penalties on tax preparers who do not comply with stringent reporting rules for the child tax credit.
Mr. Wyden, the new Finance Committee chairman, trimmed back the changes to private pension law that the House is considering, reaping less money for the federal government so that he can use that money for other legislation. That decision has become the crux of the dispute with House Republicans, since it forced Mr. Wyden to find money through other revenue-raising measures that House leaders have rejected.
The differences, subtle as they are, raise the possibility of a clash between the House and Senate versions just weeks before an Aug. 1 deadline, when the federal government is set to cut its highway and infrastructure spending by 28 percent.
Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is betting that with the deadline looming, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, will put Mr. Camp’s version of the bill to a vote in the Senate and disregard Mr. Wyden’s wishes.
But both bills have strong opposition. They finance the trust fund for only a few months, when lawmakers in both parties had hoped for a multiyear deal. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, called the bills an “embarrassment” and the product of “cowardice.”
“Republicans criticized heavily the health care bill that the president put forth because he had six years’ worth of cost and 10 years’ worth of revenues,” Mr. Corker said. “What the highway bills that I’ve seen coming out of both bodies do so far is they spend it over six months, not six years, pay for it over 10. It’s absolute generational theft.”
Heritage Action, a political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called the House bill a “spend now, pay later bailout.”

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