Speaker John Boehner on Thursday announced he was moving forward with a new approach to infrastructure spending that links energy production to highway spending.
Back in September, the Ohio Republican had said he would look to reform how Congress funds highway spending programs. On Thursday, he outlined the broad parameters of that new process.
“We’ve been working on such a plan, and our intention is to introduce a bill within the next couple of weeks that I hope can pass the House by the end of the year,” Boehner said.
The proposal would “remove barriers from American energy production and would use revenue from that new production to help pay for initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure around the country,” he said.
The legislation, which is being drafted by a number of committees, would also not include earmarks or other specific line-item spending requirements and would end what Boehner termed “frivolous projects” like funding for baseball parks and garages.
“I’ve never voted for an infrastructure bill, primarily because they were always full of earmarks and what I thought was an awful lot of frivolous spending. ... I think this represents a better way to do that,” Boehner said.
On the other big topic for Congress, the deliberations by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, Boehner said he still expects a deal.
“This is hard stuff. We’re talking about things that a Congress or our government has never ever done. Ever,” he said.
On revenues in the deal, Boehner said, “I think raising taxes hurts our economy and hurts the ability to create jobs.” However, he did say, “I think there’s room for revenues. But there clearly is a limit to the revenues that may be available.”
But he bluntly warned Democrats that, “without real reform on the entitlement side, I don’t know how you put any revenues on the table. I made this clear to the president” this summer during the debt talks.
When asked if he felt he was morally bound to honor the deal he made with President Barack Obama and allow automatic cuts, or the sequester, to be imposed if the committee fails, Boehner said, “Me, personally? Yes, I would feel bound. It was part of the agreement. And so either we succeed or we’re in the sequester. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we didn’t want anybody to go there. That’s why we have to succeed.”
Boehner also stressed that if the committee comes to agreement, it must pass both chambers.
“I thinks it’s important for the Congress to respect the work of the committee,” Boehner said. “If they come to an agreement ... I think it’d be unfair” to not pass the deal, he added.
But on broader tax reforms, Boehner downplayed the chances of the super committee actually addressing the situation.
“I don’t want to prejudge what the super committee will or won’t do, but I think there’s going to be a real effort over the next year to ensure this project is completed successfully,” Boehner said.
Boehner demurred when asked about what lessons he’s learned in his first year as Speaker.
“I don’t think there’s been any surprises,” he said, saying that even with the problems he encountered during the debt deal, “I’ve been through this drama before.”
But he did say that his “biggest regret this year was that the president and I weren’t able to come to an agreement solving our short- and midterm deficit and debt problem.”
On the public’s dim view of Congress since last year’s historic election swept him and Republicans into power, Boehner acknowledged the public has been upset with the bitter fights this year on a continuing resolution and the debt deal.
“I’m frankly not surprised at all,” Boehner said.
As for Democrats’ claims they believe the House is now in play in next year’s election, Boehner dismissed that notion out of hand, saying he is “confident that we’ll maintain the majority.”