CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Feb. 15, 2012 – 11:09 a.m.
House Delays Plans to Vote on Highway Bill
By Kathryn A. Wolfe, CQ Staff
House Republican leaders are going back to the drawing board to find new ways to pay for their five-year, $260 billion highway bill, after announcing Wednesday they were abandoning plans to vote on the package before Presidents Day.
The postponement was prompted, in part, by a decision to spend one of the offsets — a requirement that federal employees pay a greater share of their pension contributions — on the payroll tax cut extension instead. Many had been counting on that offset to help pay for the bill (
But the delay was also a recognition that GOP leaders have more work to do in persuading reluctant members of their caucus to support the package, which would link a reauthorization of surface transportation programs to an expansion of oil and gas drilling in the arctic and off U.S. shores (
“Look, I know some of you still have concerns about this plan,” House Speaker
Boehner also urged his members to pitch the energy production provisions in the bill to constituents as an answer to rising gasoline prices.
“This debate is a debate we want to have,” the Speaker said. “ABC News reported last night that we will soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw that report, and they’ll be talking about it. When they do, tell them about this bill that we’re working on.”
Republican leaders first will need to revise their plan to pay for the bill. With gasoline and diesel tax revenue lagging as Americans turn to more fuel-efficient vehicles, Highway Trust Fund revenue is projected to fall far short of the amounts needed to fund authorized spending. Leadership had cobbled together a package of other offsets to help bridge the gap, including a requirement that federal workers contribute more to their pensions (
At least some of that money will instead be spent on the expected agreement for payroll tax legislation (
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said that the transportation bill’s pension offset “overlaps to some extent with one of the offsets in the payroll tax agreement, so we’ll need to make an adjustment to meet our commitment to ensuring that the energy/infrastructure bill is fully paid for. We’re looking at the best way to do that.”
The specific offsets that may be on the table are unclear, but it is likely that the House will consider some of the ideas that the Senate Finance committee employed to help pay for the chamber’s two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill. One possibility is the transfer of money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which Senate tax-writers are counting on to produce $3 billion for the highway bill.
United Democratic Opposition
Boehner’s efforts to rally his caucus are critical because he can count on no support from Democrats.
House Delays Plans to Vote on Highway Bill
The ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee,
Republicans insisted that the decision to push action on the legislation beyond next week’s recess was not a retreat. Noting that some 300-odd amendments were filed on the bill, Steel said that leaders decided to take more time because they are “committed to ensuring members have the chance to participate.”
Rules Committee Chairman
Steel said that even the portion of the legislation that would expand offshore oil and gas drilling and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy leasing may not get a vote before the recess.
“We may or may not get as far as a vote on the energy piece,” he said, citing the number of amendments and the need for a vote on the payroll tax cut extension.
The GOP leadership’s efforts to line up its caucus got a boost Wednesday when two leading business groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — endorsed the surface transportation-energy package and said they would score it among their key votes.
This puts many Republicans in a tough spot because other conservative policy groups — notably Heritage Action for America — have urged a “no” vote and said that they will include the bill in their legislative scorecard.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Majority Leader
Reid filed cloture on an amendment that combines provisions from Finance regarding taxes; from Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding safety (
Niels Lesniewski and Richard E. Cohen contributed to this story.