Top negotiators on a final transportation reauthorization package are up against a tight deadline, with legislative language needing to be posted three legislative days before a House vote and authorization for current projects set to expire this weekend.
House sources indicated an agreement would need to be reached by Wednesday to have enough time for bill-writers to do their work and to satisfy House rules. But Monday, it appeared that talks over the weekend had not bridged the most important points of contention, and both sides began to gird for what they believe will be a difficult end of the week.
Between the transportation bill, an extension of student loan rates and the potential fallout from the Supreme Court’s health care ruling, Republicans and Democrats alike are hoping they can hit their deadlines instead of being stuck with the blame for failure.
“I’m putting my colleagues on notice. Mr. President, the Senate will stay as long as we have to, end of the week if necessary, to complete this substantial workload,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Monday. “We hope that there will be cooperation not only in this body but also in the House of Representatives.”
But the path to a deal remains unclear, and the top grievances from House Republicans now are not over what’s already in the bipartisan Senate-approved two-year extension but instead over what’s still missing.
A House GOP leadership aide confirmed that talks continued throughout the weekend between Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.). The aide said that based on those talks, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains hopeful a deal can be cut by Wednesday evening.
But the aide warned that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” explaining that part of the problem remains how conferees will balance compromises on the biggest issues, most notably the Keystone XL oil pipeline and changes to the environmental permit process that would expedite and streamline reviews.
House Republicans have made clear in talks with Boxer that “if you don’t want to do Keystone, you’re going to have to give a lot on streamlining, and if you don’t want to do streamlining, you’re going to have to give on Keystone. ... It’s that sort of balancing act,” the aide said.
Still, the GOP aide added that “there’s no poison pill in it at this point” and that the two sides are working diligently to resolve their differences.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.