Privately, Republicans also said they see the bill as a politically strong tool, noting that highway spending and domestic energy production are issues that poll well, and if Senate Democrats or the White House stand in the way of the bill, it could become a defining issue in the 2012 elections.
Nevertheless, conservatives Tuesday said they are skeptical.
“Highway spending has gotten totally out of control” and has become a symbol for the problems with government, Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham said.
Needham argued that while Boehner is reforming federal programs and making a strong play to open up areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, Republicans need to reduce overall federal spending.
“This is not a jobs program. Republicans shouldn’t be in the business of calling a highway bill a jobs program,” he said. He added that saying increased federal spending is OK if it’s paid for is “not the right message to be sending … to grass-roots activists.”
Democrats and their allies echoed the conservatives’ concerns.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he is “disturbed by the un-democratic and non-transparent fashion with which the majority has drafted and introduced its bill. Democrats have been left entirely out of the process and, now, after more than a year of waiting for this legislation, we have 48 hours to assimilate 800 pages before it is marked up.
“This is certainly not an inclusive and open process that encourages — or enables — bipartisan feedback. And we surely don’t have sufficient time to fully understand the implications of the policies being proposed,” Nadler said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) dismissed the legislation as a political stunt, saying, “We ought to stop playing pretend.”
David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed, saying that the bill will “actually block any actual jobs or action on transportation.”
“Instead of legislating seriously, what the Republicans are about to put out is an inventory of all the worst ideas they’ve had for the last two decades. There’s no reason for this to happen” because the Senate is unlikely to take up the bill this year, Goldston said.