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WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday voted to change the funding and timing of a House bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states in an effort to force Congress to come to grips with chronic funding problems that have plagued transportation programs in recent years.
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 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 trust fund is in its current straits because the federal 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax and the 24.4-cent-a-gallon diesel tax -- the fund's chief source of revenue — haven't been increased in more than 20 years. One solution would be to raise fuel taxes, but lawmakers are reluctant to do that in an election year.