CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
March 6, 2012 – 10:54 p.m.
Boehner: Senate Highway Bill an 'Option'
By Nathan Hurst and Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
Taking up the Senate’s two-year surface transportation reauthorization will be one of the options that House Republicans consider Wednesday, in a closed-door session aimed at breaking an impasse over the highway bill.
The House has been stymied on its five-year, $260 billion bill (
With his caucus divided, Boehner said Tuesday that the $109 billion Senate bill (
Boehner — who once touted the highway legislation as his signature “jobs bill” — faces growing pressure from inside and outside his caucus.
Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, a former House Republican, stepped up his criticism of the House bill on Tuesday, urging a gathering of some 2,000 county government officials to lobby their House members to back the Senate bill.
“The House bill that was presented . . . is very deficient in transit money, in all kinds of safety programs,” LaHood told members of the National Association of Counties, meeting this week at the Washington Hilton. “The House can take its cues from the Senate.”
Efforts to get the House highway bill back on track have been hampered by a growing rift between Boehner and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman
Even so, Boehner says he stands behind Mica.
“The Speaker continues to have every confidence in Chairman Mica and totally supports his continuing efforts to pass a transportation bill with key reforms, including a link to expanded American energy supply — and no earmarks,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.
But House leaders are relying on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member
With the current authorization (PL 112-30) slated to lapse at the end of the month, the threat of a shutdown of highway funding looms unless lawmakers can agree on a reauthorization or another short-term extension.
“Speaker Boehner and chairman Mica will lay out the options and get feedback,” said Shuster, who chairs the panel’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. “We are working hard to pass a good transportation bill.”
Like Mica, Shuster favors a multi-year authorization, to give state and local governments more time to plan.
Boehner: Senate Highway Bill an 'Option'
“A multiple-year bill is much better, even with a smaller amount,” he said. Boehner and GOP leaders sought last week to build support for an 18-month bill. But “a lot of members didn’t go for that,” he said.
Concerns About Trust Fund
The Senate two-year alternative, which the Environment and Public Works Committee approved unanimously, would make relatively few changes in the status quo. Its chief problems, Shuster said, are that the duration is too short and that “it would bankrupt the trust fund,” although as it stands, the House’s bill would soon leave the Highway Trust Fund — which depends on waning gas and diesel tax receipts — empty as well.
Tea party freshman Rep.
“America needs long-term infrastructure planning,” Woodall said. “Things too often are delayed in this town. There is work to be done. . . . The question is, do we have the will to get there?”
Shuster said failure to pass its own bill would weaken the House in negotiations with the Senate.
“We need to have our own option to have leverage,” Shuster said.
But Democrats say that House Republicans weakened themselves by abandoning a collaborative approach in favor of a bill engineered to push GOP election year messages. Linking highway and transit spending to measures that would expand oil and gas drilling in coastal waters and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge cost Republicans any chance of winning broad bipartisan support.
“I would hope the Republicans would decide to abandon the partisan bill that they have reported out of committee and are still arguing about among themselves and pursue a more bipartisan posture, as has the United States Senate,” said Minority Whip
For their part, Senate Democrats said the progress toward an agreement on amendments that would allow their legislation to advance was tied to Boehner’s openness to the Senate bill.
“Senate Republicans have been using amendments to delay this bipartisan highway bill until Speaker Boehner could figure out a path for dealing with it in the House,” said Sen.
Niels Lesniewski and Alan K. Ota contributed to this story.