House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica is one of the Members taking a lead role in trying to negotiate a highway bill by the end of this week.
A House GOP aide listed three key reforms that Republicans are calling for: the consolidation of transportation programs, the scaling back of transportation enhancements, which is the primary source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and environmental streamlining.
After an agreement on those issues is reached, House GOP leaders believe both sides can resolve Keystone, a provision the Republicans have called for that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from setting enforceable safeguards for coal ash, and the RESTORE Act, which would send most of the fines from the BP oil spill to the Gulf Coast states.
Democratic members of the conference committee met before the leaders’ meeting and “shared notes and perspectives of all our Democratic conferees on the process,” Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) said.
“There are a number of issues over which there is disagreement,” Rahall said. “And the root cause ... is that there is a clear policy from Republicans to not allow this administration to take credit for putting a single American back to work or saving a single American job. This is the only jobs bill on the agenda before Congress at this moment. People expect Congress to act.”
Rahall said he hopes enough stakeholder groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are “stepping up” to call for passage of the bill.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Republicans have been evasive in negotiations.
“It’s very difficult to pin them down on what they are agreeing to and not agreeing to,” Nadler said.
“It’s very clear that ... if Boehner wanted a bill, he could have one negotiated in 24 hours,” Nadler added. “I don’t think he wants a bill.”
Before the leadership meeting, Mica dismissed the allegations and said the differences have to do with Democrats not giving concessions to Republicans. But he didn’t provide any details.
Democrats need to offer “a lot of concessions on some of the major issues,” Mica said.
“We have the balance of the week to get something done,” he added.
Earlier this month, Boehner said he would prefer a six-month extension of the highway bill if the bicameral conference committee cannot come to a resolution by the end of the month.
A six-month extension would require Congress to deal with reauthorizing transportation programs during an expected post-election, lame-duck session — adding to an already long list of critical legislative priorities, including extending Bush-era tax cuts, raising the debt limit and undoing the sequester of automatic spending cuts set to begin in January.