Boehner: GOP transportation plan 'really solid'

Boehner: GOP transportation plan 'really solid'
© Greg Nash

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election MORE (R-Ohio) on Wednesday defended his chamber’s stopgap $10.5 billion transportation funding measure as a "really solid bill" amid criticism from Senate Democrats.

"I think Chairman [Dave] Camp [R-Mich.] and the members of the Ways and Means Committee have a really solid bill to help pay for... the shortfall, if you will, in the Highway Trust Fund for the next eight or nine months," Boehner said during a news conference. 

The bill would put off a shortfall in federal road and transit spending until the next Congress. Democrats have derided the proposal, saying Republicans are putting off discussion on a long-term transportation bill.

But Boehner said Wednesday that the GOP proposal was "a solid piece of legislation,” and the House would move the measure.

"Looking forward to the committee marking it up next week and it being on the floor of the House next week," the Speaker said.

Democrats in the Senate also sharply criticized the House GOP transportation proposal as an attempt to keep transportation funding at current levels.

The Senate stopgap would only extend federal infrastructure spending only until the end of the year, leaving lawmakers to resolve the shortfall during a lame duck session.

“The House’s plan to kick the can down the road and pass a temporary patch for the Highway Trust Fund until next May derails the effort to pass a long-term transportation bill this year,” Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.

“This ill-conceived proposal would prolong uncertainty for business, local governments and the states and would create another financial crisis right before the next construction season,” Boxer continued. “Passing a long-term transportation bill this year would provide a real boost for our economic recovery. The American people have a right to expect no less.”

Republicans have said that their plan would extend current transportation funding levels until May 2015 and avoid efforts to increase the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax during a lame-duck session after November’s elections.

“Any effort that just goes to the end of this year will only lead to another backroom deal during the lame-duck session where only a very few members are present or have any say in the matter,” House Ways and Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said after his $10.5 billion proposal was released.

“I’ve been in that room enough, and it is time for the committees and the entire House and Senate to have the full influence they deserve,” Camp continued. “What troubles me most about a Dec. 31, 2014 date are those using it as a ploy to stick the American people with a massive increase in the gas tax — just about the worst tax increase Congress could hit hardworking Americans with. So, I am seeking the reasonable middle ground of the end of May 2015.”

Lawmakers are debating infrastructure funding with more urgency as money in the Highway Trust Fund dwindles. The Department of Transportation has warned that the fund will run out of money in August unless Congress approves a cash infusion.

The GOP stopgap proposal relies on revenue from pension changes and custom fees to offset a one-time cash infusion into the Highway Trust Fund.

Transportation advocates have pushed for lawmakers to increase the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 to pay for a long-term highway bill.

The gas tax has long been the traditional source for funding for transportation projects. But the tax has been stagnant for two decades and has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The proposal to raise the tax has stalled with lawmakers reluctant to increase the amount drivers pay in the middle of an election year. The White House has also said that President Obama is opposed to a gas tax hike.