McCarthy: Yeah, we're not taking up that Senate highway bill/Ex-Im reauthorization

The best laid plans of mice, men, and the Senate GOP often go awry. The upper chamber’s majority leadership enraged conservatives by trying to push through a six-year highway bill that will reauthorize the Export-Import Bank while ignoring demands to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. After muscling the bill through, the House Majority Leader announced today that they might as well have not bothered at all:

The House will not vote on a multi-year Senate highway bill that revives the now-expired Export-Import Bank, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday.

“We’re not taking up the Senate bill,” McCarthy declared to a roomful of reporters in his office.

Instead, McCarthy urged the Senate to take up a short-term House-passed bill which extends federal highway funding for five months, without renewing the Ex-Im Bank charter. He called the House bill the “best option” for Congress before money for highways, bridges and mass transit runs out on Friday.

McCarthy’s declaration is a blow not only to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had teamed up to craft the bipartisan, long-term highway bill.

It’s also a blow to backers of the Ex-Im Bank, who had hoped the 81-year-old institution would be revived by catching a ride on the back of the Senate transportation bill. The charter for the bank, which provides loan guarantees to help U.S. corporations sell goods overseas, expired on June 30.

So all of the drama this weekend turns out to be for naught, at least for now. Mitch McConnell has certainly focused on trying to get bills out in regular order, as a means of portraying the GOP as a governing party that can get things accomplished. Not only is that building an argument for 2016, it’s a way to pre-empt the political high ground when the inevitable vetoes start rolling out of the White House. They are preparing the PR battle for the budget standoff in the fall.

That’s why one has to wonder just how this scenario unfolded. Senate leadership knew that Ex-Im was unpopular among conservatives, so one might have expected them to check with House leadership to find out what they could whip in support — or whether they would even allow it to come to the floor. Either they didn’t bother to check, or they thought the House leadership would go along with them. Surprise! McCarthy told Roll Call that John Boehner would only allow a reauthorization of Ex-Im to go to the floor in an open-amendment process, and that no one was in any rush to tackle it anyway. Now, McConnell et al have riled up conservatives over ham-handed tactics and wound up with nothing to show for it.

At this point, the only option to extend funding for the highway trust fund is for the Senate to pick up the House’s five-month extension. McCarthy insists that the House will take its normal summer recess, with or without Senate action on the House bill. This could still change, but if it doesn’t, it’s not exactly a confidence builder for rank and file Republicans in Senate leadership.