Pelosi: GOP highway bill plan ‘dishonors’ House rules

Greg Nash

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the House’s plan to strip changes from a Senate bill to extend federal transportation funding and send it back to the upper chamber “dishonors the rules of the House.” 

Republicans in the House have said that they will reject changes made to a nearly $11 billion bill to bolster transportation funding by the Senate just before they recess for the month of August in an attempt to jam the upper chamber into accepting their version of the measure. 

Pelosi said Thursday that GOP leaders were blocking Democrats in the lower chamber from bringing up the Senate’s version of the highway bill, which would shorten the length of the funding — through December instead of May 2015. 

“You may recall that the rules of the House say that if … the House and the Senate are in true disagreement on legislation, then any member of the House can call for the Senate bill to be brought up on the floor,” she said during a news conference. 

“The rule that coming to the floor dishonors the rules of the House that gives that privilege to any member and says only the Majority Leader will have the right to bring it up, which means of course that it will not be brought up,” Pelosi continued. 

The legislation at issue is intended to extend federal transportation spending temporarily to prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund that has been projected to occur in August. 

The transportation department has said it will be forced begin cutting back payments to state and local governments on Friday by as much as 28 percent unless Congress acts quickly to replenish the fund.

Democrats want to deal with a longer-term fix during the lame-duck session after the November elections, while Republicans want to extend funding into next year and the next Congress — possibly one with a Republican Senate.

Pelosi said Republicans in the House should be willing to accept the shorter version of the transportation funding measure “because it comes to us from the Senate with strong bipartisan support. 

“A majority of Republicans in the Senate have voted to support the Senate bill,” she said. “We have an opportunity to reject what the Republicans are offering, support the Senate bill, and go home ... in the best possible way to proceed to eventually by the end of this year have a stronger bill for a longer period of time.” 

House GOP leaders have said that they are planning to reject the Senate’s version of the highway bill because it contains a technical error that would leave the measure about $2 billion short of the amount of money that is needed to refill the Highway Trust Fund until the end of the year. 

Pelosi said Thursday that Republicans were risking an interruption in construction projects across the nation if Congress leaves Washington without reaching a final agreement. 

“If the reaction of the leadership is simply to reject the Senate bill, that means that states will lose in the next couple of weeks 28 percent of their funding,” she said. “What we want to do is have long-term solutions so that we’re not stoking uncertainty so that we can have investment.”  

A House Democratic leadership aide said that party leaders were recommending that the rank-and-file vote against the transportation proposal, but were not actively whipping against it.

The aide said that Republicans "made this a much easier proposition for us to oppose." That's because the GOP structured the vote as a rejection of the Senate changes, which most Democrats prefer, and not a direct vote on the House bill. 

"I think a lot of us aren't going to vote for it," predicted Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "Just wait and see."

The bill could be in trouble if Democrats decided to oppose the measure en masse, because 45 Republicans voted against the House transportation proposal earlier this month. Only 55 House members in all opposed it.

Still, given the time crunch Congress faces, another Democratic aide expected dozens of House Democrats – especially those in more marginal districts – to vote with the GOP, sending the bill back to the Senate.

-This story was updated with new information at 1:46 p.m.

Bernie Becker and Mike Lillis contributed.