Highways, Bridges and Roads

Conservative groups rev up opposition to highway bill

Conservative groups are pressuring lawmakers to vote against an agreement between the House and Senate for a $105 billion transportation-spending bill.

Both chambers are expected to hold a final vote on the measure on Friday.

{mosads}The pressure from groups like the Heritage Foundation’s political arm and the anti-tax Club for Growth raises the possibility that conservatives in the House will put up a roadblock to the long-sought bicameral transportation agreement — and in the process put the brakes on a painstakingly negotiated compromise with the Democratically controlled Senate.

Both the Heritage Foundation’s political committee and the Club for Growth warned on Thursday they would hold votes in favor of it against lawmakers in the run-up to November’s election.

“The transportation portion authorizes $53.3 billion per year in spending, $15 billion more per year than the plan proposed by House Republicans last July, which would have successfully ‘realigned’ spending with revenues coming into the federal Highway Trust Fund,” the Heritage Foundation’s Action for America group said in an alert to its members.

RedState.com editor Erick Erickson said the transportation bill was “a massive increase in federal gluttony.”

“The Republicans decided to drop demands for approving the Keystone XL pipeline and demands that the EPA stop its ridiculous regulations on coal plants that will harm our energy future,” Erickson said in a blog post on his website. “In exchange, Democrats will not fund bike paths and highway landscaping … So much for credibility in the argument on spending.”

The legislation would maintain transportation funding at current levels through the end of fiscal 2014. A Democratic aide said the transportation spending portion was patterned largely on the Senate legislation, which cost $109 billion.

To secure a deal, House Republicans agreed to drop their demands for language expediting the authorization of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and loosening regulations on coal ash. In return, they won a concession from Democrats to streamline permitting of transportation projects.

Republican leaders in the House said Thursday that they were confident the transportation compromise with the Senate could pass, despite the opposition from groups that have already helped put a stop sign up on the previous highway bill attempt in the lower chamber.

“People have their opinions,” conference committee member Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told The Hill. “I think it’s a good bill.”

Republicans may be hoping to make up for the loss of any members of their caucus who are swayed by the conservative groups’ unhappiness with the votes of Democrats who uniformly opposed a previous effort by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass a five-year, $260 billion transportation bill.

But, as of Thursday evening, most Democrats in the House who were on the 47-member conference committee that negotiated the agreement with the Senate still had not signed off on the compromise.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters that Democrats found concerns with the agreement as it was drafted into legislation (H.R. 4348) early Thursday morning.

“There are objections to details in the bill I think are unnecessary,” he said of what he called “deficiencies that were concessions to the Republicans.”

DeFazio acknowledged the protest from minority House Democrats would be unlikely to prevent Republicans from bringing up the transportation bill, and he said he would likely vote for its final approval. A Friday vote is expected, despite a House rule requiring legislation to be available for review for three days prior to its approval.

A key ally of Boehner, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said the blessing of the deal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would likely mollify the objections of Democrats like DeFazio.

“Now that we have an agreement with the Senate, maybe you’ll be able to get some Democrats,” he said.

LaTourette added that winning the support of fiscal conservatives in the House will be no easier than it proved to be in the effort to pass a large transportation bill in the chamber earlier this year.

“One of the biggest problems has been that conservative think tanks have prevented Mr. Boehner from getting 218 votes for a piece of legislation,” he said. “The proof will be when it comes up on the [vote] board.”

At least one conservative Republican, firebrand freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), told The Hill on Thursday that he planned to support the compromise highway bill, despite the opposition from the outside groups.

“People in the construction industry down in my neck of the woods need certainty so they can get back to work,” he said.

Another staunch conservative House member, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), told The Hill that he was “leaning no” on the transportation bill.

“I’m kind of disappointed Keystone is not in there,” he said.

“The pay-fors are kind of a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” Gingrey added. “Until I read it and understand a little more what’s in it, I can’t comment any further.”

Tags Boehner Harry Reid John Boehner Phil Gingrey

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