Highway conferee threatens not to sign compromise report

House Democratic members of the committee that has been conferencing on a new transportation spending bill are considering not signing off on a potential compromise.

Lawmakers in both parties signaled Tuesday that a new highway bill could possibly be combined with an extension of low interest rates on college loans, in order to enable both to be approved before deadlines set at the end of the month.

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But a Democratic member of the transportation conference committee told The Hill on Tuesday that the compromise might have to be approved by the panel without the support of members of his party from the House.

"I don't know what's in the possible compromise," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. "Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have been shut out of the negotiations. The meetings have been kept secret from us."

Nadler said House Democrats could retaliate by refusing to sign the report, which must be issued by the 47-member conference committee in the event of a compromise.

The committee could still report a deal if all House Republicans sign off on a proposal, along with a majority of conference committee members from the Senate.

But Nadler said he did not know if he could sign a report from the conference committee because Democrats in the House did not know what was going on with the talks "except for rumors."

The complaint from House Democrats comes as senators on both sides of the political spectrum began to tout bipartisanship on the transportation talks.

"I think the Senate the last couple of months is beginning to operate like it used to," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday.

"There's been some bipartisan stuff going on here," his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said separately.

Nadler said Tuesday evening that the bipartisanship on the transportation talks was limited to the Senate.

"They've been bipartisan, so I assume they're being bipartisan in the conference," he said of members of the conference committee from the upper chamber.

By contrast, he said, "[I]n the House, we've been excluded from the beginning."

Lawmakers are expected to unveil a possible compromise on transportation funding soon if a deal is reached ahead of a June 30 deadline for the scheduled expiration of road and transit funding.

Reid said on Tuesday that such an agreement would have to be reached by Wednesday to have enough time to be voted on by both chambers of Congress.