The House passed a six-year highway bill on Thursday, by a vote of 363-64, paving the way for projects related to highways, bridges, and mass transit. The funding granted in the bill only covers three of those years, leaving some of the details to be hammered out by a Senate and House conference committee.
What started as a bill designed to fund and reform highway and highway safety programs became a debate over the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The House of Representatives went back and forth late into the night on Wednesday over dozens of amendments, covering everything from the size of trucks allowed on interstates to the amount of liability insurance that trucking companies would be required to pay.
The House debates then shifted to a series of amendments dealing with the Ex-Im bank, the official export credit agency of the United States.
“These amendments are getting more and more strange as the night goes on,” said Representative Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin.
The House has already voted to reauthorize Ex-Im, but adding amendments to the highway bill gives Republicans the chance to voice their concerns. The Senate included amendments in their version of the highway bill, extending funding for five years.
Aside from the Ex-Im amendments, one problem that many Democrats and some Republicans had with the bill, which calls for $325 billion dollars over the next six years, is how to pay for it. A gas tax could serve that purpose, but it will not be discussed in the dozens of amendments to the bill. Another criticism over the House bill was that it did not go far enough to invest in future infrastructure projects.
The author of the House bill, Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) said at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition last month that he expects the bill to reach President Obama’s desk by the end of the year. Shuster is one of the more conservative members of the senate, but says he feels that funding infrastructure is one of the key responsibilities of the federal government.
“Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution plainly says what the federal government is supposed to do: defending America and building roads and bridges,” said Shuster.