The Senate met in a rare Sunday session to move along the chamber’s multiyear highway bill, but the debate was dominated by Republican squabbling and amendments unrelated to transportation. The upshot is the current federal funding plan expires July 31, and even if the Senate can pass its plan the legislation will be at odds with the short-term extension the House passed July 15.
The amendments up for votes Sunday were about politics, not pavement, but the only real action came as several prominent Republicans rose to defend Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accused last week by Texas Republican and presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of lying about votes on the Export-Import Bank and the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said “squabbling and sanctimony” had no place on the floor of the Senate, while Cruz defended himself for “speaking the truth.”
The Export-Import Bank guarantees loans to help boost U.S. exports, and has been renewed in the past by Congress little controversy. Conservatives have recently opposed the program, while President Obama and a majority of Republicans in the Senate support it.
The amendment easily passed a procedural vote Sunday, although the amendment sets up a roadblock with the House. In another vote, the Senate failed to attach language to the highway bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act. The party-line vote was the “meaningless political theater” Cruz had predicted when he suggested McConnell allowed it only to smooth the way for vote on the bank.
The Senate is expected to approve the full surface transportation package later this week, though the respective leadership of each chamber have said the legislation proposed by the other would be a tough sell, especially given the looming deadline.