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Democrats Back Another Short-Term Highway Bill

Welch is collecting signatures of lawmakers who've had enough of stop-gap highway spending bills. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Welch is collecting signatures of lawmakers who've had enough of stop-gap highway spending bills. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

See if this sounds familiar.  

House Democrats back in May said they didn’t want to vote for another short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund, but most of them ultimately relented, preferring to go on record supporting a two-month patch rather than be blamed for causing major disruptions to transportation projects across the country.  

But don’t expect their help to pass another stopgap bill in July, House Democrats warned their Republican colleagues. Right. On Wednesday, House Democrats came to the floor and railed against the GOP’s proverbial can-kicking, denouncing Republican leadership’s five-month extension of the fund that pays for surface transportation and infrastructure initiatives nationwide.  

“If kicking the can down the road was an Olympic sport,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., “we would win gold, we would win bronze, we would win silver and we would win aluminum for kicking the can down the road.”  

Hastings, along with 131 other House Democrats, went on to vote “yes” on final passage.  

Republican leaders were banking on Democrats caving under pressure as they had before, especially when promised the extension through Dec. 18 would buy the necessary time to come up with a long-term, multiyear fix.  

House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also aware the bill they passed Wednesday afternoon, 312-119, might not be the bill that is ultimately signed into law.  

The Senate is still mulling its options for advancing legislation to fill the Highway Trust Fund’s near-depleted coffers. Plus, many members hope the extension needed before the end of July will be a legislative vehicle for a reauthorization of the now-lapsed Export-Import Bank, though House conservatives are strongly opposed and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has pledged to filibuster that scenario .  

Of the 65 Republicans voting “no” in the House on Wednesday, most hailed from the House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee — two limited-government caucuses that are disinclined to funnel to transportation projects federal dollars that might otherwise be funded by states.  

Many of the 54 House Democrats who voted “no” represent some of the most steadfast opponents to short-term Highway Trust Fund extensions. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in May circulated a letter wherein members who signed on pledged not to vote for anything other than a robust, multiyear bill. This month, Welch was urging leadership to put multiple transportation bills on the floor under a rule where the bill with the most votes would advance to the Senate.  

A few of his allies in that bipartisan effort voted against the leadership-sponsored patch on Wednesday: Reps. John Carney, D-Del., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Scott Peters, D-Calif., Reid Ribble, R-Wis., James B. Renacci, R-Ohio, and Lou Barletta, R-Pa. And some of them didn’t: Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Andy Barr, R-Ky.  

Only one member of elected House Democratic leadership voted against the five-month Highway Trust Fund bill: Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California.  

Two House Democrats competing to be the next junior senator from Maryland, Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen and Steering and Policy Co-Chairwoman Donna Edwards, also voted “no.”  

Van Hollen, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York, Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin of Michigan, and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton jointly introduced on the floor Wednesday an iteration of President Barack Obama’s six-year transportation funding bill, which they touted as a viable solution Republicans shouldn’t discount.  

Except for Van Hollen, they all proceeded to vote “yes” on the GOP’s five-month bill; Norton doesn’t get a vote in the House.  

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.  

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