Senators reach deal on six-year highway bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and liberal stalwart Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have reached a deal on a six-year highway funding bill.

The deal would fund highways and federal infrastructure projects for three years, putting the burden on the next Congress to come up with funding for its second half.

“After months of discussion and a lot of cooperation from chairmen and ranking members, and staffs and members from both sides of the aisle, I’m happy to announce that Sen. Boxer and I have an agreement for a multi-year, bipartisan highway bill. We will now discuss that with our conferences at the lunches,” McConnell said.

He said a long-term highway bill “is in the best interest of our country” and thanked colleagues and staff on both sides of the aisle for working to put it together.

McConnell and Boxer did not immediately provide details of their agreement.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who spoke on the Senate floor immediately after McConnell, expressed confidence in Boxer but added that the rest of his colleagues must review any deal before signing off.

“I hope we can have a long-term bill again but we can’t go forward on a bill until we’ve read it and until we’ve seen it and studied it,” he said. “I need to have a caucus.”

McConnell and Reid agreed to delay a vote to begin the highway debate until 4 p.m. Tuesday to give senators more time to examine the agreement.

Lawmakers will scrutinize closely the offsets used to pay for three years of highway projects, estimated to cost about $50 billion.

Boxer, the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the agreement will be posted Tuesday afternoon on the Internet so lawmakers and the public will have a chance to examine its details.

“I agree with Leader McConnell, we have an agreement in principle. I also agree with my leader, we’ve got to look at the details,” she said. “It’s my understanding that we’ll start to see that language momentarily.”

Without a new highway funding bill by the end of the month, the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money for federal projects. The trust fund’s main source of income is the federal gas tax, which has not been able to keep up with demand for projects as drivers have moved toward fuel-efficient cars.

“I believe it is a breakthrough,” Boxer said of the proposed deal. She then noted the the trust fund “goes bust in ten days.”