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Thune Floats Highway Bill as Reconciliation Candidate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A top Senate Republican is floating the idea of using the budget reconciliation process to solve the highway bill funding puzzle.  

"Using the budget reconciliation process ... from a timing standpoint enables us, I think, to address what are a couple of really big priorities, and that is reforming our business tax code, lowering the rates, making our country more competitive with those around the world, and dealing with what we know is going to be a crisis come May 31, and that's funding highways," Republican Conference Chairman John Thune told reporters Tuesday.  

Of course, Republicans have other ideas for the reconciliation silver bullet — like largely rolling back the 2010 health care law .  

Thune said "there'll be a lot of interest" among Republicans in using reconciliation, which produces a legislative vehicle that can reach President Barack Obama's desk without facing a filibuster, to attack Obamacare.  

The Budget Act places limits on the ability of lawmakers to use the fast-track budget process, but even that has proven to be fungible from time to time, with parliamentary rulings coming in conflict over the years. Under the most recently accepted construct, a trio of reconciliation bills may be created under a budget resolution: one each on revenues, debt and outlays, as Richard Arenberg, a longtime Democratic staffer now at Brown University, explained last November . Arenberg also wrote a book about the Senate's rules and the filibuster with former Parliamentarian Robert Dove.  

"The reconciliation process with its potential for abuse threatens the Senate’s unique balance of majority rights and minority protections. Critical decisions about what can and cannot be included in reconciliation will fall into the lap of Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough," Arenberg wrote in his opinion piece. "This is a prospect that no Senate parliamentarian relishes. While these decisions may seem obscure, they could well have huge public policy impacts."  

Thune's comments Tuesday signal that the debate suggested by Arenberg may be coming closer to reality.  

Of course, a reconciliation bill undercutting Obamacare would face a certain veto, but a tax code overhaul that provided for significant infrastructure spending might be an entirely different matter, especially if crafted with Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Both the highway bill and the Affordable Care Act are revenue bills.  

Thune, the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, one of several authorizing committees with a slice of the transportation bill, said the current law would still need an extension, even under his expedited process proposal.  

"Using the budget reconciliation process ... from a timing standpoint enables us I think to address what are a couple of really big priorities, and that is reforming our business tax code, lowering the rates, making our country more competitive with those around the world, and dealing with what we know is going to be a crisis come May 31, and that's funding highways," he said.  

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