GOP chairman 'looking forward' to highway vote-a-rama

GOP chairman 'looking forward' to highway vote-a-rama
© Anne Wernikoff

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Tuesday that he is "looking forward to the challenge" of pushing a $325 billion highway bill through the lower chamber this week. 

Lawmakers in the House are expected to begin voting Tuesday evening on about 280 amendments filed for the legislation in a bid to display a more open process under new House Speaker Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.). 

Shuster said ahead of the votes that he is "very excited, truly" about shepherding the highway bill onto the House floor this week.

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"There are 280 amendments. We're going to go through them, " he said during a news conference with other Republican House leaders on Tuesday. 

"I think we can demonstrate that we can have an open process," Shuster continued. "We can get through this bill." 

Republicans in the House have been facing pressure to pass a multiyear highway bill since they rejected an infrastructure funding measure that the Senate approved this summer. They balked at that bill, in part, because it contained six years' worth of transportation commitments but only three years' worth of funding. 

In contrast, the $325 billion highway bill that is being considered by the House now would require lawmakers to pass new legislation to unlock additional funding after the initial three years, instead of guaranteeing it in advance.

Both chambers' highway bills would maintain the federal government's current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation. To reach that level of spending, however, Congress will have to come up with approximately $16 billion per year to supplement revenue from the federal gas tax.   

Democrats in the House have pushed for an increase in federal infrastructure spending through either a gas tax increase or an infusion of cash from taxing oversees corporate profits. But GOP leaders have resisted a gas tax hike and said they do not have enough time to finalize a tax inversion plan. 

Shuster said Tuesday "there's a lot of great reforms" in the House highway bill, even though its final three years of funding remain uncertain. 

"This is important to the economy, to the jobs and American competitiveness for us to rebuild and expand our infrastructure in this country that so badly needs it," he said.

"It's a bipartisan bill," Shuster continued. "It's a six-year bill. It creates flexibility for states, which they've asked for. This six- year bill creates more certainty for the folks out there that are doing the work on our roads and infrastructure around the country."