Senate Highway Bill Set to Kick Off Thursday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set in motion the procedure to move to the Senate Highway bill, cueing up its first test vote for Thursday.

Senators will vote then on whether to proceed to the $109 billion, two-year surface transportation bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. The bill is expected to get the 60 votes needed to overcome delay tactics that have become standard practice in today's Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday finished its markup attempt to bridge a $12 billion gap for the bill. The Highway Trust Fund is fed with gasoline excise taxes. But the money wasn't enough to fund all of the bill's projects and it was up to the Finance Committee to make up the difference. In the end, the panel came up with $10.5 billion.

Assuming MAP-21 gets 60 votes to proceed on Thursday, it'll then be open for amendments on the Senate floor. Reid has not said how long he's willing to let the amendment process go before trying to bring debate to a close.

Meanwhile House Republicans are still preparing to bring up their 5-year, $206 billion highway bill next week. The price tag has some conservative Republicans criticizing the plan, while controversial measures like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling and forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have Democrats in widespread opposition. Democrats are also up in arms over several of the bill's policy choices, including cuts to Amtrak and cuts to federal mass transit programs.

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