House GOP gives ground on leg­isla­tive agenda to Se­nate

Shift on trans­porta­tion bill fol­lows pay­roll-tax ac­qui­es­cence

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

Congress last year was dom­i­nated by House Repub­li­cans and their agenda, but the leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive ap­pears to be shift­ing to the Se­nate this year af­ter Speaker John A. Boehner said this week he is will­ing to take up a Se­nate trans­porta­tion bill rather than have his cham­ber write its own ver­sion.

Bit­ter par­ti­san de­bates on spend­ing and deficit-re­duc­tion mea­sures typ­i­cally ended last year with Mr. Boehner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can, hold­ing his ground and forc­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, into bro­kered deals that granted House Repub­li­cans key con­ces­sions.

But House GOP lead­ers’ grip on the leg­isla­tive agenda be­gan to slip this win­ter when they caved to Demo­cratic and White House de­mands that an ex­ten­sion of the pay­roll-tax hol­i­day not be paid for with bud­get spend­ing cuts.

And Mr. Boehner’s decision to turn to the Se­nate’s mul­ti­year trans­porta­tion bill af­ter fail­ing to sell his own five-year plan to reluc­tant House Repub­li­cans is an­other un­com­fort­able ac­qui­es­cence to the up­per cham­ber.

“We’re go­ing to con­tinue to have con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers about a longer term (House GOP trans­porta­tion) ap­proach, which frankly most of our mem­bers want,” Mr. Boehner said Thurs­day. “But at this point in time the plan is to bring up the Se­nate bill, or some­thing like it.”

The speaker down­played his re­cent leg­isla­tive strug­gles and de­nied he was los­ing con­trol of his con­fer­ence, which in­cludes a large and rest­less tea par­ty­backed fresh­men class.

“This is a very dif­fi­cult process that we’re in,” Mr. Boehner said. “We’ve got a new ma­jor­ity, we got 89 fresh­men. And you know, my job ev­ery day is to work with our mem­bers to find out where the cen­ter of grav­ity is, and to try to move leg­is­la­tion that’s in the best in­ter­est of our coun­try. And we’re go­ing to con­tinue to do that.”

Mr. Reid said Mr. Boehner’s will­ing­ness to take up the Se­nate trans­porta­tion bill, or one sim­i­lar, “is pleas­ing to my ears.”

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Demo­crat who is part of Mr. Reid’s lead­er­ship team, warned the speaker against bow­ing to con­ser­va­tives in his con­fer­ence who op­pose tak­ing up the Se­nate bill.

“The speaker should re­mem­ber the les­son of the pay­roll-tax cut de­bate and not re­peat his mis­take,” Mr. Schumer said. “When­ever he lets a small group on the hard right dic­tate what he should do, he loses and Amer­ica loses and bi­par­ti­san­ship loses.”

House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man John L. Mica’s $260 bil­lion trans­porta­tion bill — which would fund fed­eral high­way, sur­face tran­sit and trans­porta­tion safety pro­grams for five years — has di­vided the House GOP Con­fer­ence since the Florida Re­pub­li­can re­leased it sev­eral weeks ago.

The list of GOP gripes is long and di­ver­gent. Some say the pro­posal is an egre­gious ex­am­ple of gov­ern­ment over­spend­ing while oth­ers say it cuts too much from sa­cred projects in their dis­tricts. Still oth­ers have threat­ened to with­hold sup­port over con­cerns that many states get back less than 100 per­cent of the share they pay to the High­way Trust Fund.

This week, Mr. Mica shopped around re­vi­sions of the mas­sive 846page bill, which Mr. Boehner asked House Repub­li­cans to sup­port dur­ing a closed-door meet­ing Wed­nes­day. But as of Thurs­day, Mr. Boehner lacked con­fi­dence an up­dated pro­posal would past muster within his con­fer­ence, forc­ing him to look to the Se­nate for help.

And with Congress fac­ing an endof-march dead­line to keep the trust fund op­er­a­tional and with the House on break next week, House Re­pub­li­can lead­ers have lit­tle time to come up with a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the Se­nate bill.

“Our Re­pub­li­can col­leagues have been in dis­ar­ray on the sub­ject of what, how and when a trans­porta­tion bill will come to the floor. It’s very im­por­tant that we move for­ward,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

The Se­nate’s two-year $109 bil­lion high­way bill, in con­trast, was drafted with broad bi­par­ti­san sup­port. The cham­ber be­gan vot­ing Thurs­day on 30 amend­ments and is ex­pected to pass the full mea­sure next week.


House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can, said that con­ver­sa­tions would con­tinue in the House about a longer term ap­proach to the na­tion’s trans­porta­tion needs. For now, he said he is will­ing to take up a Se­nate trans­porta­tion bill.

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