House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed uncertainty about whether he has the votes to pass a $260 billion transportation bill that could come up for a floor vote next week.
Speaking Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., Boehner said he was not sure what would happen when the transportation bill comes to the floor of the House.
"But that’s not up to me, that’s up to the House," he quickly added.
The GOP bill, which would spend about $52 billion per year on transportation over five years, has been criticized from the left for spending too little and attacked from the right for spending too much.
Boehner acknowledged Thursday the additional difficulty he faces in corralling votes in the wake of the House's self-imposed ban on earmarks.
"It’s an awful lot harder to win votes than it used to be," he said.
"Part of it is because this majority listened to the people and banned earmarks," Boehner continued in his CPAC speech. "We sacrificed a tool of power that’s been around for decades. It’s what we said we’d do, and it’s the right thing to do. This is not a majority full of members willing to trade their votes away for the promise of a pork-barrel project."
The Senate held the first floor vote on its $109 billion surface transportation bill Thursday afternoon, and the shorter two-year measure easily passed on a motion to bring it to the floor for a vote.
The sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), predicted the measure would win more than the supermajority necessary for the Senate to end debate proceed toward passing it. The motion to proceed passed 85-11, far surpassing the 60-vote threshold. The Senate is likely to take up the bill itself next week.
The Senate and House bills would spend about the same amount of money per year on transportation projects, but in addition to disagreeing on the length of time of the legislation, the chambers have offered vastly different methods to pay for it. The Senate has suggested using the roughly $36 billion that is brought in each year by federal gas tax, and added a $9.6 billion package of revenue from closing tax loopholes in hopes of countering Boehner's proposal to tie infrastructure spending to oil drilling.
Democrats have lined up in opposition to Boehner's transportation bill, which The New York Times's editorial called "uniquely terrible" in an op-ed Thursday.
"The list of outrages coming out of the House is long, but the way the Republicans are trying to hijack the $260 billion transportation bill defies belief," the paper wrote. "Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, rightly calls this the 'worst transportation bill' he has seen in 35 years of public service"
Boehner defended the bill in his CPAC speech Thursday, saying "the bill on the floor next week has no earmarks and no ‘stimulus’ spending.
"You may remember in 2005, a Republican Congress passed a highway bill with more than 6,300 earmarks — some small, some not so small," he said. "Only eight members of the House voted against that bill. I was one of them."