House Republicans introduced their version of a highway bill yesterday, tying the funding mechanism to domestic energy production, including offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The plan to link highway funding to oil drilling is considered controversial by many Democrats.
The proposal is in response to the bipartisan Senate proposal announced last week that would fund the Highway Trust Fund at $54 billion over two years. The House GOP is calling for a five-year bill, although no specifics on funding levels were released.
The outline of the American Jobs & Infrastructure Act was unveiled yesterday by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and several House GOP committee chairmen, but per a report posted by public radio’s TransportationNation.org, few details were offered journalists present for the briefing.
Per a news release from Boehner’s office, the bill is “another part of the Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators, and will support long-term job creation by removing government barriers to energy production to pay for improvements to America’s roads and bridges.”
The House proposal also calls for reforms and cuts in infrastructure programs and would cut out so-called “transportation enhancements” that states now must fund out of federal highway dollars.
Some specifics of the bill were first reported Wednesday evening by TransportationNation.org, notably that thebill willmatch the Senate proposal in highway funding levels, according to a member of Congress familiar with the bill.
Since Senate Democrats have offered a two-year, $54 billion package for the Highway Trust Fund, that would indicate the House proposal could run as high as $130 billion over five years, though the number could drop significantly if streamlining and deregulation cut the cost of doing projects, noted the TransportationNation.org report.
“Our bill links job-creating energy production and infrastructure together,” Boehner said at yesterday’s press briefing. However, the House bill exists at this point as an outline and has no price tag attached to it. And Democrats were quick to state their dismay over the funding mechanism stated by Boehner.
“They’re not serious,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was referring to ANWR drilling. “Why would they talk about something that they know is going to raise the wrath and anger of our side,” he said. “We’ve been through this before.”
The House bill is also being characterized as a Republican response to President Obama’s campaign for more infrastructure spending to create jobs.
The bill the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) reported out on Nov. 9 - S.1813 “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21)—was unanimously approved by EPW. According to the committee, that “illustrates broad bipartisan support for passage by the full Senate.”
S.1813 is truly a bipartisan piece of legislation - cosponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee; Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the committee; Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee; and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), ranking member of the subcommittee.
“By moving forward with a unanimous vote on MAP-21, this committee sends a strong signal that we are serious about job creation and getting our economy back on track,” said Sen. Boxer. “This cooperation is a rare win for bipartisanship, and I believe it will provide encouragement to the finance committee as it works to ensure full funding for this two-year effort.”
S. 1813 is now headed to the full Senate for consideration, where it will be combined with measures from the Senate Committee on Finance, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
The current surface transportation bill expires on March 31.