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Democrats Delay McConnell Highway Bill Deal (Updated) (Video)

McConnell says an "obvious" place for an Ex-Im Bank vote would be on the highway bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
McConnell says an "obvious" place for an Ex-Im Bank vote would be on the highway bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:25 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s highway deal with Sen. Barbara Boxer hit a pothole Tuesday, as Democrats helped torpedo a vote to advance the 1,030-page bill about an hour after senators received it.  

In a bizarre turn of events, Boxer ended up voting to filibuster bringing up a bill she helped negotiate, while saying she hopes to get on the bill by Wednesday.  

“Keep our eye on the prize,” she said in floor remarks.  

Minority Leader Harry Reid and Boxer had called for a delay so Democrats could read the mammoth bill, and senators blocked bringing it up, 41-56 vote, well shy of the 60 votes need to advance.  

McConnell had touted his breakthrough as a plan that should have been attractive to the House, and suggested supporters of the Export-Import Bank would have a chance to offer an amendment to revive its charter.  

After the vote failed, McConnell said the Senate would have to be in session this weekend in an effort to complete the highway bill before the August recess, and Reid said he’d be “fine” doing so. “We want to be as cooperative as we can, but we’re not going to lurch into this legislation,” he said.

The deal would provide three years of funding — about $45 billion in fresh money — for the six-year transportation bill Boxer had previously negotiated with Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

CQ Roll Call obtained a copy of the text shortly before 3:28 p.m., including a $16 billion chunk taken from dividends paid to big banks by the Federal Reserve and more than $2 billion by cutting Social Security benefits from fugitive felons. There also are assorted tax compliance measures and fee hikes and extensions tossed in.  

Democrats Throw Cold Water on Highway Bill

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Separately House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters the Senate should take up the House’s short-term patch and work with the House on a long-term bill later in the year.

Some of the details of the McConnell-Boxer deal were still murky ahead of the vote Tuesday — even to Boxer.

“We don’t have the details,” the California Democrat said. “I know earlier I reached an agreement with McConnell and I’m very excited about it, but we have to see the pay-fors and we have to see all the titles.”  

Asked whether she had seen the pay-fors, Boxer said she hadn’t seen them in writing.  

“Well yeah, I haven’t seen these pay-fors. So all of us say we’re excited about this prospect and we want to see the paper and hopefully the bill will be posted — it isn’t posted [yet]. And we’ll read it, then we’ll be ready to vote on the cloture petition.”  

She declined to detail the pay-fors further.  

“I’m not gonna go over that. … I believe that the pay-fors will work, as I understand them. I haven’t seen them in writing. I’m waiting to see them all in writing. We’ve reached an agreement in principle, but we need to see the paper,” Boxer said, adding that she hoped McConnell would not hold the cloture vote at 4 p.m.  

“I hope they won’t do that. I hope they’ll put off the vote so we can read the bill. Because I don’t think I’ve ever voted for cloture on something I haven’t read, you know? But I like the way we’ve negotiated. I think it’s been in good faith. And I think it’s a good bill, but I want to see the paperwork as well as all my colleagues who haven’t been as involved as I have.”  

McConnell Aims for House Support on Highway Bill

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Reid also said after the Tuesday lunches, where both parties received briefings on the accord, that the White House wasn’t yet in the loop.  

Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois reiterated Democrats wouldn’t move forward without having time to analyze the details.  

“It wasn’t that long ago we were tied up on the floor of the United States Senate over one provision in the human trafficking bill that tied us up for a month,” he noted. “It’s important that we know what’s in the bill.”  

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., quipped the text not only wasn’t dry, it was “invisible.”  

But Durbin did sound one hopeful note on getting a full highway bill.  

“I will tell ya this: There is a strong appetite across America for a Highway Trust Fund extension bill that is long enough in duration to do this country proud,” he said.  

Nicole Puglise, Emma Dumain, Steven T. Dennis and Alan K. Ota contributed to this report.

Senate Reaches Deal on Highway Bill

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