House picks up pace on highway bill

House picks up pace on highway bill
© Greg Nash

The House is working its way through hundreds of amendments to a $325 billion highway bill under Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP divided over care for transgender troops Want bipartisan health reform? Make the debate honest again Ex-CBO directors defend against GOP attacks on ObamaCare analysis MORE (R-Wis.), who is touting it as an open amendment process intended to show that the chamber is under new leadership. 

The amendments include measures tied to highway funding, which expires on Nov. 20, as well as legislation unrelated to the bill — including a controversial reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

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The House hopes to complete its work by Thursday to set up a potential conference with the Senate before the transportation funding deadline, and members are promising long days of working into the night.

“There are 280 amendments. We’re going to go through them,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a long three days, but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Shuster added. “I think we can demonstrate that we can have an open process.”

GOP leaders say the marathon voting sessions show they are serious about returning to so-called regular order in the House under Ryan.

“We’re allowing members to participate in a way that the founders intended and we’re advancing an issue that is a big priority to the hard-working taxpayers of this country,” Ryan said during his debut news conference on Tuesday.

“I’ve told people we’re going to do more of this,” he continued. “I’m very committed to a complete set of changes to the House rules to make it a more deliberative and participatory process. We’re going to do this as a team, and we’re going to get this right together.”

A vote on the Export-Import Bank would trigger a fight within the GOP, which is badly divided over the whether to renew the bank’s charter.

The highway bill has been seen as a potential vehicle for Ex-Im, which expired in June. The bank is germane to the highway bill because the House is amending a Senate bill that already includes legislation on the bank.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Ryan are both opposed to Ex-Im, but McConnell has signaled a willingness to allow it to move forward as part of another measure. The House late last month approved legislation reauthorizing the Bank, with a majority of House Republicans backing renewal.

House Republicans are under pressure to pass the highway bill after rejecting a Senate measure this summer. The six-year Senate bill only included three years of highway funding.

The House bill also includes three years of funding, but would require lawmakers to pass new legislation to pay for an additional three years.

“It's a three-year bill that has three years of financing,” Ryan said Tuesday. “And if we can come up with more financing down the road, we can add more years to the bill.”

The federal gas tax pays for a portion of highway funding, but the House must come up with $48 billion in revenue to cover three years of authority. It so far has not released a specific set of pay-fors that would cover the costs, but many expect it will produce a package similar to the Senate bill.

Perhaps the most controversial amendment that is set for a vote on Tuesday is a proposal to allow states to decide whether they want to increase a current limit of 80,000 pounds for cargo trucks to 91,000 pounds, in an attempt to end a bitter fight over truck weights that has raged for years in Washington.

Trucking companies have pushed to increase the weight limit for years, arguing that it would increase the amount of cargo that can be shipped without requiring drivers to work extra hours.

Safety advocates have sought to block the increase, arguing that heavier loads would make trucks more likely to crash and damage roads.