House, Senate Can’t Agree on a Single Path Toward Failure

Written by SK Ashby

Should we or should we not properly fund the federal highway system? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) both agree that we should not, but they can't agree on a single path toward not doing so.

It's not clear if House Republicans even have enough votes to pass their proposal, but Paul Ryan and his colleagues want to move forward with their plan to create a voluntary tax on repatriated profits to fund the highway system.

“That's what our first preference is, and we're in discussions with our colleagues on how to do that,” Ryan said Thursday at an event sponsored by Politico, suggesting there were few other options when it comes to crafting a long-term deal.

“If we can't get an agreement on that, then we have to go to a Plan B,” he said.

What is Plan B? No one knows. Not even Paul Ryan.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and his colleagues in the Senate have apparently ruled out raising taxes or creating a voluntary tax to fund the highway system, instead preferring to fund the system with offsetting spending cuts.

“We’ve got to pay for the highway bill, but I don’t think we have to raise taxes to do it,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Thursday.

McConnell has said that he wants to bring a highway bill to the floor next week, after the Senate finishes an education bill. The Kentucky Republican hasn’t discussed publicly how he would pay for highways, though Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that he has given GOP leadership a list of offsets.

Even if House Republicans manage to gather enough votes to pass their fiscally disastrous funding plan that relies on a voluntary corporate tax, it's highly unlikely their plan could pass the Senate.

I'm skeptical that House Republicans will be able to pass their plan because House leadership could not whip enough votes to do so two months ago before Grover Norquist vowed to spank them if they pass it.

On the other hand, if the Senate manages to pass a plan that relies on offsetting spending cuts, it seems unlikely the president would sign it. In either case, Senator McConnell and Representative Paul Ryan are charting a path toward failure.

It looks increasingly likely that Congress will pass another temporary funding measure, but Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has hinted that the president may veto another temporary extension.

Personally, I don't believe the president will veto another temporary extension, but the White House is right to increase pressure on Congress with the threat of a veto.