CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Updated June 5, 2012 – 10:57 p.m.
GOP Readies Highway Counteroffer
By Nathan Hurst, CQ Staff
House Republicans were preparing a counteroffer to a new Senate highway bill proposal, as negotiations showed new signs of life Tuesday on several fronts.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman
Meanwhile, the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce lined up in opposition to a procedural motion that could tie the hands of House conferees. And Senate negotiations aimed at finding a bipartisan compromise on language restricting EPA regulation of coal ash were reported to be showing progress.
“We got a very warm reception over there,” Boxer said, after she and Inhofe delivered their new offer to Mica’s office.
House Republicans said they were taking the proposal seriously. “We’re starting to review the Senate offer,” said freshman Republican
Boxer said the proposal reflects the wishes of House members on transportation provisions in the bill, although she declined to provide details. She said other issues, including House proposals to mandate fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and to rein in the EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash, were not dealt with in the offer. “The other issues we’ll deal with after this,” she said. “This is a transportation bill.”
Lankford said House Republicans hope to have a response to the Senate offer this week. “We are not looking for everything,” he said. “We want action in some areas where the Senate has been silent. Many House conferees have been working on these issues.”
The Senate passed its two-year, $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization on a 74-22 vote in mid-March. That bill went to conference last month after the House passed a 90-day authorization (
House GOP conferees have said recently they were increasingly unhappy about the status of negotiations.
“The Senate vote was bipartisan,” Lankford said Tuesday. “That is great. But there also are things that the House is passionate about.”
He said House members want strong action to streamline environmental approvals of transportation projects and consolidate programs.
House Republicans now find themselves under mounting pressure to reject a motion instructing conferees to reduce fiscal 2013 highway bill spending to levels that could be supported by current excise taxes — effectively a cut of about one-third.
GOP Readies Highway Counteroffer
The Chamber of Commerce urged members to vote against the motion, and warned Tuesday that the business group will include the vote on Georgia Republican
“Cuts of this magnitude would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, would curb critical safety programs and would cause a substantial portion of transportation projects to be shelved,” the chamber’s chief lobbyist, R. Bruce Josten, wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
The Chamber’s position reflects the tension between the GOP’s business constituency and its conservative ideological backers. Some conservative groups including Heritage Action for America have endorsed the Broun resolution.
Broun’s resolution would not be binding, but opponents worry it would have the effect of limiting flexibility for House negotiators and make a conference agreement much harder to achieve.
A coalition of 10 transportation groups including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Highway Users Alliance appealed to conferees in a letter to expedite passage of “mutually acceptable surface transportation legislation.” Another group of 51 regional Chambers of Commerce signed a letter to conferees taking a similar position.
While Boxer signaled that the new Senate proposal does not address efforts to restrict EPA regulation of coal ash, Sen.
“We’ve done a ton of work with Democrats on the Senate side on that language,” said Hoeven, an Energy and Natural Resources Committee member serving as a conferee. “And I think within reason, there’s more we can do on it. And we are working on it.”
That still leaves the Keystone pipeline and other big issues on the table, including Republican proposals to expand domestic oil and gas production and use the royalties to boost highway spending.
There’s also a question of how to pay for anything conferees produce. House Republicans – most notably Mica – have repeatedly said they would like to extend authorization beyond the end of fiscal 2013, when the Senate bill would expire.
But Senate Finance Chairman
Federal surface transportation programs have not been fully reauthorized since 2005 (PL 109-59) and are currently operating under an extension (PL 112-102) that expires at the end of the month.
Richard E. Cohen and Geof Koss contributed to this story.
First posted June 5, 2012 2:42 p.m.