Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer today painted an upbeat picture of House-Senate highway bill talks, insisting that progress is being made and that an extension will be passed before the current authorization runs out at the end of June.
“We are making very solid progress. I would say great progress,” the California Democrat told reporters, adding, “I believe we are going to have a bill” before the deadline of June 30.
Boxer, who has made a habit of working with unlikely political allies when it comes to infrastructure spending, also praised Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Boxer hailed the “willingness of Speaker Boehner to work with us,” explaining that she had “a very good conversation with him yesterday. He said he told his guys ‘to get the conference report done.’”
“He is working to get this done, and that is the best news I have heard in a long time,” she added.
Boxer also sought to downplay the chances that major sticking points in the conference talks — most notably House demands that the bill include language on the Keystone XL pipeline — would trip up conferees.
“Yes, we are having conversations on these [issues]. People are laying down what they’d like and we know we’ve got to work these things out,” Boxer said before insisting that GOP and Democratic members of the conference understand the bill cannot have “controversial” provisions.
However, in a statement today, Boehner reiterated his desire to see the pipeline language and other energy matters addressed in the bill.
“I’m hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs; as well as meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country,” Boehner said.
Although Boxer declined to discuss specifics, she did hint that negotiators might be close to an agreement on how to pay for the bill — one of the biggest concerns of conservatives in the House. “I think they found a very sweet spot ... [that] can get very broad support” in the House and Senate, Boxer said.
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.