With House Republicans — for now — unwilling to take up the Senate's six-year highway bill, and with the Senate unwilling to act on the House's five-month bill, House GOP leadership has a legislative offer it's hoping can get them to the August recess a day early.
Just minutes before midnight Monday, Republicans posted the text of a three-month bill that would extend the Highway Trust Fund until Oct. 29. It would not include a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, but would also take care of a Veterans Affairs hospitals shortfall. (The bill would allow the Veterans Choice program to transfer $3.3 billion to other VA health programs.) Boehner told Republicans during their weekly closed-door meeting Tuesday — and reporters after during GOP leadership's weekly news conference — that he believes passing the three-month extension would allow lawmakers to leave Washington a day early, moving up the start of the House's five-week recess from Thursday afternoon to Wednesday evening.
While that may jive with member travel plans, the move could also be a defensive tactic to make sure the Senate doesn't jam the House. Had the Senate finished its six-year highway bill and simply left town, the House may have been forced to take up the measure.
When a reporter asked Boehner if this three-month deal was "pre-baked" with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Boehner said it wasn't. The Ohio Republican later clarified that he and McConnell had discussed the idea.
"But was it pre-baked? No," Boehner said.
Boehner told reporters that he wanted a long-term highway bill that is fully paid for, and he anticipated the House and Senate would go to conference on the legislation to work out the finer details.
Boehner said the House wants to produce a long-term highway bill. It's just that members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee "ought to have the opportunity" to move that legislation through their panel before bringing it to the floor.
"And so we've got work to do," Boehner said. "And we need to buy some time in order to get that work done."
Asked whether the Export-Import Bank might be an issue between the House and Senate — the Senate attached a reauthorization of the export credit agency to its legislation Monday night — Boehner, who is aware the Senate's highway bill includes Ex-Im, said, "I have no idea."
The House is expected to take up the three-month bill Wednesday as one of the last orders of business before the August recess. And while it's unclear at this point if Democrats would support a highway bill that does not reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, Republicans coming out of conference Tuesday seemed to think the votes for such a measure shouldn't be a problem.
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said he thinks there are enough votes for the three-month bill to pass on suspension — which would require a two-thirds majority and probably at least 40 Democratic votes, if every Republican supported the bill. While Stivers said he, like Democrats, was disappointed the Export-Import Bank wasn't getting reauthorized — Stivers estimated that 300 members support a reauthorization — he didn't think the lack of an extension would be a big hurdle to passage.
"It was the conventional wisdom," Stivers said of attaching the Ex-Im Bank to the highway bill, "so we're going to have to have new conventional wisdom now."
But Stivers suggested that, even if Democrats didn't go along with a short-term patch sans Ex-Im, Republicans could probably get to a majority on their own.
"It seems like nobody's got a big problem with it," he said.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., didn't rule out Democrats voting for the bill, but he also didn't commit to the three-month patch. "We're going to see what develops over the next 24 or 48 hours," Hoyer said.
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