WASHINGTON – The Senate agreed Wednesday to take up a sweeping transportation bill a little over a week before states will face a cutoff of highway and transit aid in the middle of the summer construction season.
The GOP-drafted bill would set policy and authorize transportation programs for six years, but provides only enough to pay for the programs for three years.
The vote was 62 to 36. Sixty votes were necessary to proceed.
Despite an array of concerns Democrats voiced with the bill over the past two days — including that some provisions may undermine safety and that transit programs didn't received their fair share of funding — 14 Democrats and two independents joined with 46 Republicans to go forward with the bill.
The vote sets the Senate on a path toward likely passage by the middle of next week, setting up a possible confrontation with their Republican colleagues in the House. The House has passed a five-month extension of transportation programs, and GOP leaders there expressed reluctance to take up a Senate bill of more than 1,000 pages that they've only had days to consider. They say they could do a better job if given a few more months.
An amendment to renew the authority of the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired at the end of June, is expected to be offered. The bank, which helps U.S. companies sell their products overseas, has been largely non-controversial over the years, but conservatives recently targeted it as an example of what they called "crony capitalism."