WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Tuesday to keep federal highway money flowing to the states into December but only after rejecting the House's reliance on what lawmakers called a funding "gimmick" and moving to force a post-election debate on whether to raise gasoline taxes.
The House could accept the Senate's changes or reject them and send the bill back to the Senate. Whichever outcome, a highway funding bill is still expected to clear Congress before lawmakers adjourn for the summer this week.
The Senate took up a $10.8 billion bill the House passed last week that would have kept the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through next May and voted 66-31 to strip out controversial funding provisions, leaving $8.1 billion.
That's enough to keep programs going only through Dec. 19. The amendment's sponsors — Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware and Barbara Boxer of California and Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee — said they want Congress to reach a long-term funding solution this year and they hope that will be easier after the November election when partisan tempers will presumably have cooled.
The vote on passage of the bill was 79-18.
Congress has shored up the trust fund four times since 2008. The current effort would be the fifth time.
"I remain deeply concerned that if we kick this can into next year that the next Congress — like so many Congresses before it — will be unable to summon the courage necessary to write a long-term plan for our nation's infrastructure," Carper said.