House clears highway bill conference report

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2015 - The House of Representatives today advanced a conference report on a long-term highway bill, leaving Senate approval and a Presidential signature the only thing standing in the way of the first long-term bill on the subject in a decade.

The chamber approved the five-year, $305 billion bill in a bipartisan 359-65 vote, with all 65 no votes coming from Republicans. The bill, Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (H.R. 22), received little opposition during floor debate, but the main criticism remained the mechanisms used to pay for the bill, chiefly the exclusion of any changes to the gas tax.

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“We should not be popping champagne; there is no back-slapping deserved,” Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble said on the House floor Thursday. He added that he would “reluctantly support the bill” but was “deeply discouraged by the phony pay-fors.” 

The bill is financed through a variety of platforms such as increasing customs taxes on goods brought into the country, selling oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, and withdrawing from the general fund. Ribble was critical of many of these measures. He asserted, for example that assumed prices on the SPR withdrawals were unrealistic given the current prices.


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Still, the bill received broad support from both parties in what House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called “something that's very rare in Washington, D.C., these days . . . a truly bipartisan approach to very real problems confronting our nation.” Committee chair Bill Shuster, R-Pa., called the bill “one of the most important things this Congress can accomplish for our country.”

The Senate was expected to take up the bill today, and a source in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an email to Agri-Pulse the chamber would “likely” vote on final passage Thursday evening.

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