House faces March 31 dead­line on road, in­fra­struc­ture bill

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

House Repub­li­cans are rush­ing to re­write their mas­sive $260 bil­lion trans­porta­tion bill ahead of an end-of-march dead­line to keep fed­eral high­way and in­fra­struc­ture pro­grams funded.

Many Repub­li­cans balked at the ini­tial mea­sure, as some called it an egre­gious ex­am­ple of gov­ern­ment over­spend­ing while oth­ers com­plained it cut too much from fa­vored projects in their dis­tricts.

And while House GOP lead­ers say they may turn re­luc­tantly to a smaller Se­nate ver­sion if their own bill col­lapses, the up­per cham­ber is hav­ing its own prob­lems, as sen­a­tors have made lit­tle head­way on their own trans­porta­tion bill in re­cent days.

House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man John L. Mica, Florida Re­pub­li­can, said Wed­nes­day he was shar­ing pro­posed changes to the bill with his cau­cus mem­bers and hoped to have a good han­dle by the end of the day on how many votes a re­vised ver­sion could re­ceive.

“We’re go­ing to have to make some con­ces­sions to sat­isfy some of the mem­bers,” he said. “But un­til they fin­ish this whip count, I don’t know.”

But Mr. Mica added he was “hopeful” the re­vised ver­sion would pass muster, say­ing most Repub­li­cans now “feel pretty good about it.”

The ini­tial House Repub­li­can­drafted mea­sure would give the fed­eral gov­ern­ment au­thor­ity to spend High­way Trust Fund money for an­other five years on road projects and to levy fed­eral gas taxes that sup­port the fund, which would be sus­pended af­ter March 31 if Congress doesn’t act.

The bill in­cluded no “ear­marks,” or pet spend­ing projects — a rar­ity for a high­way bill. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can, has touted the ear­mark-less mea­sure as an ex­am­ple of his party’s com­mit­ment to elim­i­nat­ing gov­ern­ment waste.

But ear­marks, pop­u­lar with law­mak­ers of both par­ties, his­tor­i­cally have helped make trans­porta­tion bills among the most bi­par­ti­san pieces of ma­jor leg­is­la­tion in Congress, mean­ing this year’s House bill has been a tougher sell.

Some Repub­li­cans also have threat­ened to hold back sup­port over con­cerns that many states get back less than 100 per­cent of the share they pay to the High­way Trust Fund.

The Gop-crafted House bill also isn’t ex­pected to get much, if any, Demo­cratic sup­port.

House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Mary­land Demo­crat, has called it “the most par­ti­san trans­porta­tion bill that I have seen in my 30 years in the Congress.”

Mean­while, de­bate on the Se­nate’s two-year $109 bil­lion sur­face trans­porta­tion bill also has stalled. While the mea­sure was passed by the Se­nate’s trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee with wide bi­par­ti­san sup­port, Repub­li­cans and Democrats since have butted heads on amend­ments.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans also have pushed for the bill to in­clude a pro­vi­sion to spur con­struc­tion of the pro­posed Key­stone XL oil pipe­line, which Democrats say is un­re­lated and shouldn’t be in­cluded in a trans­porta­tion bill.

One op­tion for Congress would be to pass a tem­po­rary ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent trans­porta­tion law. But many Repub­li­cans op­pose such a move, say­ing ex­ist­ing fund­ing lev­els are too high.

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