This vote was on whether to allow an amendment by Christopher Bond, R-Mo., that would have repealed provisions of current law removing $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund on Sept. 30, 2009. The amendment was offered to a bill that would funnel $7 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, which fuels federal surface transportation spending, in order to keep the fund from becoming insolvent.
Bond’s amendment would, in essence, prevent an earlier law from taking back $8.6 billion in previously unspent money from the Highway Trust Fund. Sometimes, all of the money Congress allocates for something is not actually spent and lawmakers will subsequently take back that unspent money and allocate it for something else. Bond’s amendment would have cancelled one of those “rescissions” of $8.6 billion set to take effect on Sept. 30, 2009. The timing of this rescission is problematic because the Highway Trust Fund is not taking in as much gas tax revenue as Congress has spent from it in recent years, leaving a shortfall looming at the end of September, the date the rescission is due to take effect. Not having this money available would have serious impacts on states because of the long-term nature of transportation contracting practices.
After Bond offered his amendment, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., made a parliamentary maneuver to defeat the amendment on the grounds that it violated the Senate’s rules on spending. Bond then called a vote to waive the rule for his amendment, which is what this vote was on.
“This measure simply ends the rescission in the [highway funding bill] we passed 4 years ago which otherwise takes $8.7 billion out of highway and bridge contract authority for the States. Best estimates are that this would cost 250,000 jobs in all 50 States. If you want to keep from taking the shovels out of the hands of workers on shovel-ready jobs in every State in the Nation, please vote aye on the waiver.”
Durbin said it is necessary to honor the rescission because not to do so would have serious impacts on states in the form of contractual penalties, because of the way federal highway spending and contracting work. He said Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is in charge of the committee that writes highway funding laws, said that she would replace the money before Sept. 30 through another bill.
“So what is the problem? Why don’t we do it today? Because if we do it today, we jeopardize this extension of the highway trust fund until September 30. We are trying to get this done in short order so we can end the session and come back and do the right thing before September 30. All we are asking today is for you to join us in saying to Senator Bond: Thank you for your good thought, but hold that thought until September,” Durbin said.
By a vote of 34-63, the motion was rejected. Of Republicans present, 22 voted for the motion and 18 voted against it. Of Democrats present, 11 voted for the motion and 44 voted against it (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the motion to waive the rules failed, Bond’s amendment was defeated with a parliamentary maneuver, and the bill went forward with past funding rescissions intact.