Senate starts voting; House lags on reauthorization

Source: Jason Plautz • E&E  • Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012

The Senate took a giant step yesterday toward passage of its transportation reauthorization bill, but the House continued what has become a winding, uphill path toward legislation that can get 218 votes.

As work continued behind the scenes to assemble a five-year transportation measure, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) admitted that the House might have to cede to the shorter Senate bill. Nonetheless, some lawmakers expressed optimism that next week’s House recess would allow enough time for Republicans to whip together a bill.

“The effort will be intensified over the next week, while we are gone, to try to get to the magic number 218,” Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica said.

The Florida Republican added that members would hear from constituents and stakeholders over the recess, pressuring Republicans to move legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate is motoring ahead on transportation reauthorization.

With Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republicans reaching a deal this week to allow 30 amendments — 12 nongermane and 18 germane. The Senate yesterday cleared eight provisions — many dealing with contentious energy issues — and will resume work Tuesday.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is managing the bill, predicted the bill would pass Tuesday. And Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden gave credit to Reid.

“Senator Reid pushed to get a lot of work done. I hope we can get this done next week,” Wyden said.

The Senate dispensed with several controversial amendments yesterday, including provisions dealing with Gulf of Mexico restoration, EPA’s air pollution rules, offshore drilling and funding for rural schools. They also held two high-profile votes on amendments dealing with the Keystone XL pipeline (see related story).

Up next week are a trio of amendments that would either renew or eliminate some energy tax credits, a bill creating incentives for natural gas vehicles and language that would restrict tour flights over the Grand Canyon.

The Senate must also move through 18 germane amendments that deal with everything from state funding levels to environmental review of projects damaged in natural disasters.

Boehner watched the action on the other side of Capitol Hill and had to acknowledge yesterday that the House might have to take up the Senate measure.

“The current plan is to see what the Senate can produce and to bring their bill up,” Boehner said in a news conference. “And in the meantime, we are going to continue to have conversations with members about a longer-term approach, which frankly most of our members want. But at this point in time, the plan is to bring up the Senate bill or something like it.”

Mica said he is hoping to stretch a reauthorization bill to the longest period possible — close to the five-year bill he had passed through committee in February.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said there is “definitely a commitment” to a five-year bill.

Even if House Republicans are forced to pick up the Senate bill, Mica said, it would not get through the chamber as is. Although he declined to go into specifics, Mica said there would be changes — “as many as we can make.”

But there is plenty to think about in the House.

Members were upset with an original piece of legislation because of a measure that removed dedicated funding for mass transit, but restoring it did not lead to a successful whip count, some Republicans said. Mica said there were still many issues to work through, especially without the ability to use earmarks to get individual support.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he hoped next week’s recess would make the difference, especially for lawmakers who were not in office for the last reauthorization in 2005.

“The thinking is that members are going to go home and they are going to talk to people, local community leaders that need that bridge, local community leaders that want a roadway completed,” Shuster said. “It’s a lot of people to educate.”