WASHINGTON — The two-year, $109 billion highway bill is in limbo as the Senate heads into recess after rejecting a motion to combine the transportation policy bill with its revenue portions following a move by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to block further amendments from being proposed for the bill.
Reid “filled the tree” Thursday night, offering the maximum number of amendments permitted by the Rules Committee to prevent further stalling by Republicans seeking to add new provisions to the highway bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Reid used the maneuver after Boxer became frustrated by amendments unrelated to her bill, such as one offered by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., eliminating federal aid to Egypt unless that country releases American political captives. The Senate rejected Reid’s cloture motion to limit debate by a vote of 54-42.
Now that no more amendments can be filed, the Senate can begin paring them down in an effort to pass final legislation before the current highway funding measure expires at the end of March.
“It’s not a bad deal for the bigger picture,” said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They can now essentially start over.”
Boxer said she hopes Senate leaders can work together to whittle down the number of amendments to between 15 and 20 that are transportation-related during the week off after Presidents Day, though Paul has said he is determined to get a vote on his Egypt amendment.
“We come back, we begin in earnest to dispense with amendments,” Boxer said.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee which Boxer chairs, said Senate leaders are working together to streamline the debate and hopes others will cooperate.
“I urge my colleagues to follow our lead, put aside the distractions that have been causing delay, and focus in a bipartisan manner on finishing this bill as soon as possible,” Inhofe said.
Reid said the delays have to end because of the looming deadline and the need to address other matters.
“Senators, understand, we have a lot more to do,” he told colleagues Friday.
The Senate next meets Feb. 27.