With only two months before a crucial fund for highway projects nationwide is tapped , House Republicans and the White House touted dueling plans Tuesday aimed at avoiding a late-July construction shutdown.
Speaker John A. Boehner told Republicans in a private morning meeting that leadership's plan to raise cash for a temporary $15 billion road fix by eliminating some Saturday mail service may not be ideal, but is the only viable plan that does not raise taxes.
On the other side of the Capitol, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tried to sell the House Democratic Caucus on a larger-scale highway bill President Barack Obama unveiled earlier this year, which would also bolster the Highway Trust Fund.
Foxx told reporters after the meeting that the administration’s policy is the viable one because it also reauthorizes the expiring surface transportation bill.
“We’ve got to get past … the gimmicks in transportation and really get serious about trying to get a long-term strategy going,” Foxx said. It's unclear whether either plan can pass. After the Boehner meeting, many Republicans were lukewarm on the proposal to cut Saturday mail delivery and House leaders are not likely to bring up Obama’s highway bill.
Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said he is leaning against the GOP leadership’s proposal because he thinks it would hurt those who still rely on the Postal Service. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said he would likely vote against such a plan because he thinks money should be taken from bike lane and park funding before the Postal Service takes a hit.
House Democrats signaled they will offer little help in passing the GOP bill. After the meeting with Foxx, Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., told reporters the Republican plan is short-sighted, and he said it could disproportionately affect seniors who rely more than others on access to physical mail.
“Our Republican colleagues are saying that in order to replenish the funds to help return those gas tax dollars to people so they can see, back in their community, roads built, bridges fixed, tunnels repaired, we have to tell other Americans that they will not get mail delivered,” he said. “This is … another case of Republicans saying, ... ‘In order for you to win, another American has to lose.’”
On the other hand, Obama’s plan derives offsets from revenue from a tax code overhaul benefiting businesses, which Foxx and other proponents call “pro-growth, business tax reform.”
“It would not require raising rates, it also wouldn’t require increasing deficits,” Foxx said. “We think it’s a place where there could be bipartisan agreement.”
Aside from the fact that the House GOP would not likely consider taking up legislation offered by Obama or members of his Cabinet, the chances of passing any rewrite of the tax code are looking increasingly unlikely — especially before the August recess, when the Highway Trust Fund is expected to go broke.
Still, leaders and their aides were confident as they began whipping the GOP proposal Tuesday, believing that by starting the process early, they can convince enough members on their side of the aisle that their plan is the only one worth voting for.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has attempted to pass an overhaul of the financially troubled Postal Service since the 112th Congress, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that his whip card for the GOP plan boasted 100 percent approval from colleagues so far.
"I see no reason to sell it," said Issa of the five-day postal delivery idea. "I think it sells itself."
He pointed out that Obama specifically asked for Congress to end Saturday delivery in his most recent budget request, and that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe also supported that legislative action to save the quasi-governmental agency much-needed funds.
At a Republican whip meeting on Monday, according to a GOP aide, lawmakers were generally receptive to the presentations laid out by the four chairmen whose committee portfolios included components of the plan: Issa, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan.
Leaders face some challenges, given that outside conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth have been pushing against the GOP proposal, which they call a gimmick. Yet leadership may find a bright spot in the fact that some conservatives have already said that would vote for it.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who often aligns himself with the conservative groups, said he wouldn’t call the postal offset a “gimmick” — though he did call it a “budget maneuver” — and he said he would support the plan because he thinks the Postal Service overhaul needed to happen anyway, and because the Highway Trust Fund needs to be addressed.
“I do not think stopping transportation projects is something that’s an option,” Massie said at a monthly event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.