Ryan basks in success of $325B highway bill

Ryan basks in success of $325B highway bill
© Greg Nash

Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Demonstrators gather outside Capitol to protest GOP ObamaCare repeal Two GOP senators back ObamaCare repeal after Ryan call MORE is taking a victory lap after a major achievement during his first week as Speaker: passage in the House of a highway funding bill that lasts longer than two years, something that hadn’t happened in a decade.

"This has been a great week in the people’s House," Ryan (R-Wis.) tweeted shortly after the House passed the highway bill on Thursday. "Over these 4 days, the House has debated more amendments than in the last 4 months."

Republicans touted the fact that lawmakers voted on more than 130 amendments before approving the highway bill in a 363-64 vote, calling it proof that Ryan is serious about running a more open legislative process.

Ryan promised in his first solo press conference as Speaker that his handling of the highway bill would be a harbinger of things to come.

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"Things are going to be done a little differently around here. We are going to open up this process," he said, warning that the House will debate measures with less widespread support than the highway bill. 

"I've got to tell you, bills will come up that may not pass," Ryan continued. "We're not going to bottle up the process so much and pre-determine the outcome of everything around here. I want the House to work its will, I think that's how the founders envisioned it to work. And so that means some things will pass and some things won't, and we're going to let that happen." 

But Democrats in the House complained that there are limits to Ryan's willingness to have a freewheeling debate, citing the GOP's decision to prevent a vote on a proposal to increase the fuel tax that is paid by motorists to help pay for transportation projects. 

"The biggest and most glaring omission by the Rules Committee is not allowing any attempt by this House to fund the bill. I mean that's pretty extraordinary," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who is the top ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.   

"Why can't we have a simple vote on revenues?" DeFazio continued. 

Republicans rushed to defend Ryan, noting that he kept the chamber in session for hours to power through the amendment votes.

"By any measure, this is the best transportation process and the best transportation rule that this body has seen in a decade," Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said. 

Republicans in the House had been under pressure to pass a multiyear highway bill ever 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. 

The highway bill approved by the House calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three.

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation with three years' worth of guaranteed highway funding in July. Lawmakers in both chambers have said they are eager to work out an agreement in conference.

The House bill “provides strong reforms and policies to help us improve America’s transportation system, and now we can get to work on resolving the differences with the Senate bill and carry a final measure over the goal line,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a statement Thursday.

“I am confident that we will be able to take the strong House bill approved … resolve any differences we have with the Senate’s position, and produce a final measure that improves our nation’s infrastructure and reforms our transportation programs," Schuster added later as the House negotiators for bicameral highway talks were announced. 

Lawmakers will have to work quickly on reconciling the bills to meet a rapidly approaching Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal transportation funding.

Ryan did not offer any predictions for how the upcoming highway negotiations would go, but he said he is proud of the House’s bill.

"It cuts waste. It prioritizes good infrastructure. It will help create good-paying jobs. And it is the result of a more open process," Ryan said Thursday.