House Dems applaud Boehner retreat on $260B highway bill

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper

Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee applauded the news Thursday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was scaling back the measure.

Dems had complained about not having a hand in writing the $260 billion transportation bill, which Boehner indicated he was considering scaling back due to opposition in his own party.

“Now that the Republican Leadership has shifted gears we look forward to their reaching across the aisle and working with us to fashion a true bipartisan surface transportation bill,” the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), said in a statement released by his office.

“We will meet them at the intersection of fiscal common sense and good public policy,” the long-time West Virginia lawmaker continued.

Boehner’s office said Thursday that the Speaker was considering shortening the length of the highway reauthorization bill from five years and scrapping the proposal to remove transit funding from the highway trust fund.

Rahall and other Democrats had complained that they had been shut out of developing the transportation bill, which they said was usually bipartisan, by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and other GOP leaders.

Democrats peppered the legislation with amendments to revive their concerns on issues like public transportation funding and “transportation enhancements” like sidewalks and green space.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) hailed the elimination of a cut in dedicated funding for public transportation as a victory for transit supporters.

“I am encouraged by reports that House Republicans are backing off their plans to dismantle transit funding,” Nadler said in a statement released Thursday evening by his office. “If these reports are true, I am pleased that our efforts to stop devastating transit cuts were successful.”

Republican leaders blamed Democrats in the Senate Thursday for Boehner’s turnaround on the highway bill.

“Given Senate Democrats’ unwillingness to pursue a longer-term infrastructure and energy plan, House Republican leaders are considering a revamped approach that would retain the Speaker’s vision of linking infrastructure to expanded American energy production, and allow Republicans to stay on offense on energy and jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

The current funding for highway and mass transit programs, which is an extension of the authorization bill that expired in 2009, runs out on March 31. A shorter reauthorization would likely delay the longer-term extension into the next Congress, and potentially, the next presidential administration.


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