Some conservatives — including tea party ally Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — have tried to massage the definition of earmarks to exclude transportation projects. But even Mica acknowledged how difficult it will be to get Congress to approve a transportation bill that includes them.
“We can do it without earmarks. I favor earmarks, but if we can’t do it,” Congress will find another way, Mica said.
GOP aides said Mica and other GOP leaders have done a good job of trying to placate conservatives’ concerns about infrastructure spending by trying to educate them about how the trust fund works and assuring them that no new revenue will be sought to pay for the bill.
Mica said he hopes the extension passed Wednesday will provide further reassurances, arguing that it demonstrates he is “working within the trust fund and not going outside” for funding.
“There’s no magic formula. Just a lot of hard work and communication,” he said.
Ranking member Nick Rahall called restrictions on what the committee can do in terms of earmarks and raising revenue for transportation projects the “giant elephant in the room” and acknowledged a path forward was still unclear.
But the West Virginia Democrat said he remains hopeful that “we can step up to the plate to do the job the American people, and American jobs, rely on.”
“I think it’s possible. ... It’s a process, but I believe we can pass a reauthorization” this year, Rahall said.
He said he also hopes President Barrack Obama becomes more engaged in the issue and helps provide momentum.
“The administration needs to get behind our efforts” Rahall said, who added that he has been encouraged to have heard Obama in recent weeks mention infrastructure investments “more times than in all of the last two years.”
Still, not all Democrats were convinced that a long-term reauthorization could be passed this year. “It will be a stretch to reauthorize it before this September,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) said in a floor speech Wednesday.