Hoyer: Dems not ready to back three-month transportation bill

Hoyer: Dems not ready to back three-month transportation bill

House Republicans hoping to move a three-month highway bill this week shouldn't bank on Democrats to help get it over the finish line, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Tuesday.

Hoyer, the Democratic whip, noted that the House has already passed a five-month highway extension and wondered how an even shorter fix would do anything but make it tougher to negotiate a more comprehensive package when Congress returns from the August recess.

"We're going to see what develops over the next 24 hours before we make that decision. But we are not now at a place of supporting … another short-term highway bill," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

"What's the difference between three-month and five-month? The difference is that there's a more reasonable timeframe to accomplish what we need to accomplish, and that is a consensus –– i.e., 218 [House votes] and 60 [Senate votes] –– to a highway funding bill that gives confidence to that litany of people who have to make determinations about infrastructure investment. And you do not make that in three-month, five-month or two-year cycles. You make them in much longer-term cycles than that.

"That's what we think needs to be accomplished."

The comments arrive as Senate GOP leaders have continued their effort to push a six-year highway bill through the upper chamber. Negotiated by Sens. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Live Coverage: Senate edges close to passing scaled-down ObamaCare repeal Demonstrators gather outside Capitol to protest GOP ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Ky.), the majority leader, and Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.), the legislation also includes a five-year extension of the Export-Import Bank, which helps provide financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.

Many conservatives in both chambers have panned the Senate bill, not least over their opposition to the Ex-Im provision, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said this week that GOP leaders have no intention of taking it up.

Instead House Republicans will stage a Wednesday vote on a new three-month bill, extending the highway trust fund to Oct. 29 and buying time for lawmakers to work on a longer-term solution that could include tax reforms. Then they plan to leave town.

If Congress doesn't act, the highway fund is set to run dry on July 31.

McConnell on Tuesday acknowledged the time crunch, saying he plans to take up the three-month bill to prevent the fund from expiring.

A number of Democratic leaders have hammered the Republicans for launching their summer recess this week without considering a long-term highway bill. But Hoyer said he's in agreement with GOP leaders that such a venture isn't possible given the time restraints.

"Mr. McCarthy has no intention of bringing up the Senate bill [and] frankly I'm not a fan of the Senate bill, so that does not concern me," Hoyer said. "I'm not disagreeing with McCarthy that, in the short time that we have available, it would be not possible to consider that bill in any depth. Certainly the Senate doesn't expect us to take a 1,000-page bill and just, you know, no questions asked and pass it and send it to the president."

Hoyer said he spoke Tuesday morning with Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who made the case that the GOP's three-month extension doesn't save much money over the five-month proposal House lawmakers already sent to the Senate.

That consideration, combined with the absence of the Ex-Im language, will likely dissuade many House Democrats from backing the three-month bill, Hoyer suggested.

It's unclear if there's any threat to GOP's three-month proposal. The five-month bill passed easily, 312-119, but 65 Republicans opposed the measure. If Democrats were unified against the three-month deal, it could leave GOP leaders struggling to find the votes.

Hoyer noted that the five-month bill provides a convenient backstop.

"They have a five-month short-term bill in the Senate," Hoyer said. "They can pass that and send it to the president and it'll give us some time to get that long-term bill done."