CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
By Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
Conservative Republicans are once again voicing strong reservations about Speaker John A. Boehner’s plan to have the House pass another 90-day extension of surface transportation programs Wednesday.
House leaders are reaching out to the rebellious conservatives in an effort to rally them behind what would be the 10th extension of road and rail programs since the last comprehensive transportation authorization (PL 109-59) expired in September 2009.
But prospects of success are far from certain, particularly since Boehner’s signature effort to link transportation funding to increased energy exploration has suffered repeated setbacks and left state and local officials without certainty about pressing road and rail programs at the beginning of the construction season. Still, House leaders plan to press ahead and to bring the short-term measure (HR 4348) to the House floor Wednesday.
In a clear sign that Democrats are unlikely to support the bill, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget announced Tuesday that the administration “strongly opposes” the proposed extension.
“By simply extending current authority through the end of the fiscal year, this legislation would miss a critical opportunity to provide more certainty to states and localities as they undertake the long-term planning and execution of projects and programs that are essential to creating and keeping American workers in good paying jobs, improving the Nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, and ensuring roadway safety,” the White House statement said.
The administration’s statement of policy also took aim at the sweetener GOP leaders added to the bill in an effort to draw the support of conservatives, a provision intended to force the administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The White House said the provision “seeks to circumvent a long-standing and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest and for assessing the environmental impacts . . . despite the fact that the pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts.”
For their part, Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about not being consulted over the latest leadership gambit that is designed to advance the short-term bill to a House-Senate conference committee where negotiators would craft a compromise. The Senate passed its $109 billion surface transportation bill (S 1813) with broad bipartisan support in March.
Conservatives are unhappy that Boehner has abandoned plans for the House to vote later this month on the Republican’s five-year, $260 billion transportation bill (HR 7).
“We were told earlier that we would be working on a more extensive bill,” said Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La. “Every time something moves around here at the speed of light, it’s normally not a good thing.” Landry said that he might vote for an extension “at the end of the day,” but that the House ought to debate the broader issues.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., said another short-term extension would fail to address the many changes in transportation programs that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved in February.
“We can do better,” said Hultgren, who serves with Landry on the committee. “This has been such a moving target.”
Hultgren conceded that the longer-term bill lacks the 218 votes needed for House passage, but said that GOP leaders should “make one more try at a bigger bill.”
Many conservatives remain opposed to the cost of a five-year bill and Republican leaders want to avoid a setback on the House floor, GOP aides said.
Leaders are hopeful that moving a short-term bill to a conference committee would permit the majority to shift the focus away from the party’s own internal divisions and toward the leaders’ latest effort to expedite approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Republicans have cited as a key part of their response to rising gasoline prices.
A leadership aide conceded that “we still need to do some education” on the extension bill and all but conceded that little progress was nade on the issue as had been promised during the recent two-week recess.
House Rules Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said he was aware of problems, but “the plan” was to move forward on the measure.
Other conservative Republicans said they were trying to learn details of the latest extension bill and the leadership’s underlying strategy. “How can we vote on a bill that we haven’t seen yet?” asked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said that some conservatives may be more inclined to vote for the extension because of the Keystone provision.
But Jordan, who was one of ten House Republicans to oppose last month an earlier 90-day extension bill (HR 4281), added “We need to look at the big picture . . . .We have a $16 trillion debt.”
Rep. Bill Johnson, another Ohio Republican, said the latest extension measure is “still a work in progress.” He said the House needs to move a bill to conference “that the Senate will take seriously.”
Democrats continued their call for the House to take up the Senate version and said House Republicans have not reached out to them.
“It’s clear that the Republican Party is in disarray” on the highway bill and “they have been for months,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republicans “can’t get to 218 in their own caucus, but apparently they can’t get even to a significant number where just a few of us [Democrats] voting for it might make a difference.”
Source: CQ Today Online News
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