This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.
The transportation bills’ path to law appeared circuitous at best this week, while Congress left on a week-long break without taking final action on the matter, leaving lingering questions in both chambers.
The House bill – the more problematic of a House-Senate combo being considered – was already suffering defections from Republicans who were leery of the five-year, $260 billion price tag, among other issues. But late last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delayed a final vote while acknowledging that rounding up votes from his caucus had been made more difficult because the legislation did not include sweeteners that have adorned bills past – the infamous earmarks. In the hopes of making it more palatable, House leaders decided to split the bill into three parts. Lawmakers continue to work on the bill during the recess.
The legislation is facing funding problems – last week a crucial provision that would have required federal employees to pay more toward their pensions was swiped for the payroll-tax holiday extension. The bill would also use revenues from an expansion of domestic drilling and would force President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, as it has been dubbed by Republicans, has been hammered from both left and right. The Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation have both come out against it. No Democrat is expected to vote for it. President Obama has threatened to veto it. And as they take a closer look at what’s in it, many parts of the country – from central California to Atlanta to New York -- are not happy with it.
Even some Republicans are wary of ending dedicated Highway Trust Fund support for transit riders and eliminating a program that helps bike and pedestrian projects.
In the Senate, a two-year $109 billion bill with bipartisan support was expected to pass easily. But last week, that bill got bogged down as Republicans offered a flurry of mostly unrelated amendments. Nonetheless, after some tweaks were made, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) predicted “this bill will sail in the future.”
Both chambers will attempt passage of some versions of their two bills after the recess, after which they can try to reconcile what are currently vast differences.