Highway bill stalled; Chamber campaigns outside Beltway

Lawmakers can expect to hear about the stalled surface transportation reauthorization bill from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the congressional recess.

The business group will be hosting breakfasts, lunches and policy roundtables with local chambers and business associations this week in 12 different cities in Ohio, Idaho, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana.

Janet Kavinoky, the Chamber’s executive director of transportation and infrastructure, will be on the road trip, along with Alex Herrgott, one of the business group’s transportation lobbyists.

“The idea is to get out, give people a good sense what the bill is and get them talking to their members of Congress and have them get the bill done,” Kavinoky said. “We want Congress to feel like it needs to come back to Washington and get the bill done and put it to bed.”

Also, as part of its original roughly $500,000 ad buy for the “Make Transportation Job #1” campaign that began on Feb. 12, the Chamber will expand its radio and television ads backing the highway bill to areas outside of the nation’s capital.

Ads will run in Wyoming, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Arkansas from now until Feb. 27, according to Kavinoky.

Kavinoky is vice president of the Chamber-led Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition, which has launched the campaign in support of the highway bill.

The campaign comes as the legislation hit a roadblock this week. House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) postponed a vote on the bill amid speculation that the legislation didn't have enough votes. A Speaker's aide said the bill's large volume of amendments and time needed to pass the payroll tax cut deal led to the highway bill being postponed.

The Chamber also has concerns about the House bill, though it backed the legislation this week. In a key vote letter sent to lawmakers this week, Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said the business group wanted the legislation to pass but a $40 billion transfer from the general fund to pay for mass transit, instead of gas tax revenue, could cause uncertainty.

“The Chamber remains very concerned with provisions of the bill that would make changes to how transit programs are funded. Unfortunately, such provisions of the bill would create uncertainty and put current and future public transportation investments in jeopardy,” Josten said.

The Senate is also moving its own transportation reauthorization bill.

“There's a lot positive in those bills,” Kavinoky said. “The question on the House side is what can be done with the transit funding issue. On the Senate side, they will need to work through some procedural issues and they seem be making good progress there.”

Kavinoky said the business group will try to be everywhere they can be over the break.

“If we can't be there physically either by ourselves or with ads, we will try to hit every market by doing interviews with press,” Kavinoky said.

—This story was updated at 11:41 a.m.