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Ryan, House Passes Long-Term Transportation Bill

By 24/7 Staff / / November 5th, 2015

Speaker Paul Ryan just pulled off what no House leader has been able to do in a decade - corralling an unruly chamber into passing a massive, multi-year highway and transit bill.

As reported by Politico, the measure would also revive the Export-Import Bank, a trade-promoting agency that expired last summer amid attacks from conservative lawmakers.

The bill is an important first victory for Speaker Paul Ryan, giving him something tangible to underpin his promises of a more open and collaborative legislative process.

Shortly after Thursday’s vote, Ryan played up his new, open era by pointing to the more than 100 amendment votes on the House floor allowed on this bill alone.

“It is a result of a more open process. Over these last four days, the House has debated more amendments than in the last four months combined,” he told reporters.

Of course, Ryan’s role as leader in pushing the bill through was partly serendipitous. A massive budget and debt ceiling deal was hammered out before Ryan took the gavel which cleared the decks, allowing the House to move on to other legislative issues. And the highway bill, with a mid-November deadline to take action, was understood to be next in the queue, even under his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner.

Still, House leaders knew that while transportation bills are typically bipartisan, something can always go awry in the unpredictable chamber - witness the last bill from 2012, which was so contentious that Boehner had to yank it from the floor.

But for all the leadership pomp, the bill itself does little more than punt on a viable solution for a long-worn problem - how to get federal transportation programs on a sustainable path to solvency. Still, the bill provides a much needed lifeline to the construction industry, which for years has operated under stop and go federal funding while highways and bridges fell further into disrepair.

The House’s base bill, which passed in a 363-64 vote, authorizes nearly $340 billion for highway and transit program over six years. The original bill would have paid for just three years of funding, but an amendment adopted at the last minute Thursday could add an additional $40 billion, shoring up funding for the life of the bill.

The lower chamber’s bill must still be reconciled with a similar Senate bill that also allows for six years of highway and transit policy, albeit at slightly higher funding levels.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, endorsed the bill even though it “isn’t perfect,” saying it under-invests in needed infrastructure. That’s a common refrain among Democrats who have been incensed that Ryan’s new era of openness didn’t include an opportunity to vote on an amendment that would have raised the gas tax.

A Democratic procedural motion that would have encouraged House negotiators to retain the Senate bill’s more robust funding level failed, 179-239, on a vote that remained open more than 10 minutes past its voting window.

Negotiators hope to hammer out a final bill acceptable to lawmakers in both chambers in just a couple of weeks, by the time current Highway Trust Fund policy expires Nov. 20, 2015. - 24/7 Support including Chat

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