Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica is hoping an "education campaign" on the House transportation spending plan will help gain votes for the measure.
In some respects, leadership’s efforts appear to be paying off.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) — one of the chamber’s most conservative Members and who has broken with Boehner on a number of high-profile issues — appeared open to supporting the bill.
“I’m undecided but leaning toward it,” Jordan said, adding, “We’re definitely looking at amendments getting this program back where it should be” in the states.
But for others, all the education in the world might not be enough to get them onboard if the bill doesn’t address their specific concerns.
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he cannot back the bill unless it addresses his concerns with the offshore drilling provisions, an issue for his heavily coastal district.
Southerland said an amendment further limiting drilling off Florida’s coast “would probably swing my support in favor of the transportation bill.”
But the notion that he might be swayed simply by giving him a floor vote is, according to Southerland, a nonstarter.
“Some people, I find, struggle with distinguishing between activity and productivity. I’m a small-business owner, [and] activity means nothing. It’s got to be productive. So productive would be for an amendment attached to the bill that addresses my concerns. I’m not concerned that we don’t have enough activity around here,” he said.
A GOP leadership aide acknowledged that, in many ways, those with specific issues are the biggest issue.
“This bill is a lot less about ideology and more about parochial issues,” the aide said.
But so far, according to this aide, it appears leadership’s strategy is working.
“People have questions, people have complaints, and yet, when they come into these education sessions and they get their questions answered ... they come out in a very different place,” the aide said.
“A lot of it is education. Transportation, for whatever reason, has not been one of those sexy, top-of-the-mind pieces of legislation. But when you come right down to it, it’s the core foundation of our economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate is proceeding this week with a very different two-year bill that is expected to occupy the Senate’s floor business for some time. “It will go into next week,” Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, adding that he will have a better sense after seeing the results of the Senate Finance Committee markup, which was still under way at press time.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has proposed transferring revenue from some import tariffs to fully fund the Highway Trust Fund.
“Where we cannot find more revenue from the Highway Trust Fund’s usual funding sources, we have focused on funding that bears a nexus to transportation,” Baucus said in his opening statement.
Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has offered amendments to strip Baucus’ offsets and replace them with provisions to expand oil and gas drilling in the Arctic while also fast-tracking the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.