Cruz Plans Slew of Highway Bill Amendments

Seeks to block Ex-Im reauthorization, but will also seek eight other measures

Sen. Ted Cruz / AP

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) plans to offer numerous amendments to a federal highway funding bill reauthorizing an export finance agency that the GOP presidential hopeful has pledged to kill, his staff confirmed on Monday.

The seven amendments are vast in scope. Two deal with Obamacare (one would repeal the law entirely). Two pertain to illegal immigration. Others focus on the recently negotiated nuclear deal with Iran, an Internet access tax, national firearm laws, and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The amendments threaten to roil an already contentious debate over funding for the national highway system, which is expected to include provisions reauthorizing funding for the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an agency that finances the purchase of U.S. exports by foreign governments and corporations.

Authorization for Ex-Im funding expired at the end of June, though the agency will continue disbursing approved commitments through September. Proponents of the agency are hoping to reauthorize it before then, and are eyeing the highway bill as the means to do so.

Opponents hope that funding for national infrastructure is too important for Ex-Im critics to oppose. But Cruz said last week that he is "willing to use any and all procedural tools to stop" Ex-Im reauthorization.

Cruz’s amendments all hit on popular conservative issues. In addition to repealing Obamacare, they would remove federal funding for Planned Parenthood, prohibit illegal immigrants granted deportation relief under an executive order from working on federally funded highway projects, place a permanent moratorium on federal internet access taxes, and block a nuclear deal with Iran unless the Islamic Republic recognizes the state of Israel and releases American hostages currently imprisoned there.

Cruz will also sign onto an amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) that would bar cities that refuse to enforce U.S. immigration laws—so-called "sanctuary cities"—from receiving federal law enforcement grants.

If passed by the Senate, those measures could test Democratic support for the highway bill. But Cruz says the amendments are standalone policy efforts, not simply an attempt to impede legislation containing Ex-Im reauthorization.

"Each of these amendments addresses a critical policy issue that deserves Congress’ full attention," Cruz said in an emailed statement on Monday. "I fully intend to take this opportunity to stand against the Washington Cartel and to stand for liberty and our Constitutional rights."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has signaled that he will allow amendments on the highway bill when it is considered in the Senate this week. That will likely give Cruz an opportunity to offer his proposals.

However, that is also the avenue that Ex-Im supporters will use to link the legislation to the agency’s reauthorization—a fact that drew conservative criticism of McConnell on Monday.

Some of Cruz’s conservative colleagues have joined him in pledging procedural efforts to block the bill if Ex-Im funding is attached.

"I think those of us who oppose it will continue to use any and all procedural tools at our disposal in order to oppose it," Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) said at a press conference last week.

It is not clear that a filibuster would prevent the bill’s passage. A symbolic procedural vote on the agency’s funding last month received 65 votes in the Senate, including 22 from Republicans, suggesting that a highway bill could muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the measure even with Ex-Im reauthorization attached.

That would bring the Senate’s version of the legislation back to the House, which last week approved a stopgap highway funding measure with no accompanying Ex-Im provision.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, urged the Senate to pass that version of the legislation "without any unrelated measures." Instead, the upper chamber will vote on a multi-year authorization bill that could contain significant language outside of the scope of highway funding.

Dan Holler, the communications director of the conservative group Heritage Action for America, praised House leaders for urging consideration of a bill free of Ex-Im language, though he noted that his group opposed the House measure.

"It is incumbent upon [Republican leaders]—and anybody who opposes Washington’s corrupt practice of favoritism—to ensure Ex-Im remains dead," Holler said in a statement last week.

Update: A previous version of this story stated that Cruz’s amendment would place a moratorium on Internet sales taxes, not access taxes as is the case.