Missoulian: U.S. Senate passes highway bill, extension of payments to forest counties

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a $109 billion, two-year federal highway bill, one that Sen. Max Baucus said would provide Montana with $400 million in federal highway money annually.

Both Baucus and fellow Democrat Sen. Jon Tester voted for the bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 74-22.

The bill cannot become law unless it also passes the Republican-controlled House and is signed into law by President Barack Obama. Politico reported Wednesday that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “has indicated he may consider the Senate bill or something similar to it.”

Baucus, who helped steer the bill through the Senate, helped write the policy framework as a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which unanimously approved it in November. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus said he came up with a bipartisan plan to “responsibly pay for the investments” in the bill.

“Highways are our lifeblood in Montana, which is why this bill is important for good-paying jobs, our small businesses and our families,” he said. “There’s very little under the Big Sky that doesn’t depend on our highways, which is why I’ve fought so hard to bring the highway bill to the finish line.”

Tester praised its passage, saying: “I’m pleased the Senate passed this bipartisan bill to put folks to work rebuilding our infrastructure,” he said. “While the House argues with itself, the Senate is coming together to make smart investments that support our economy and create jobs.”

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