House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday that “doing nothing is not an option” when it comes to repairing the nation’s infrastructure and reauthorizing transportation programs.
But he didn’t elaborate on how his party plans to pay for a $260 billion, five-year transportation bill introduced on Tuesday, other than to say it will be paid for in part by expanding oil and gas development.
The GOP transportation bill, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., could get a full House vote as soon as Feb. 13. The transportation panel is marking up the bill on Thursday.
“Everything will be paid for,” Boehner said, though he acknowledged that revenue from increased energy production alone is not enough to pay for the bill.
“We’ve never suggested otherwise,” Boehner said. He did not elaborate, saying only, “There will be a short-term ‘plug’ to make up the difference, and I’ll let others explain the details.”
The “others” Boehner is likely talking about are House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., whose committee has jurisdiction over the energy portion, and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. Hastings's committee marked up a trio of drilling bills on Wednesday that are aimed at helping pay for the bill. Hastings did not provide specifics of how much revenue the three proposals would provide.
Two of the bills would require the Interior Department to expand leasing opportunities in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Gulf of Mexico; a third calls for promotion of shale oil production on public lands.
“This plan allows access to American energy resources, which leads to the creation of new jobs, certainty for small businesses that depend on affordable energy, and the generation of new revenue that can be used to build road and infrastructure projects to create even more American jobs,” Hastings said at the onset of the hearing. “Unlocking our energy resources starts a wave of economic benefits and job creation that will touch nearly every aspect of our lives and economy.”
In the closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday morning, Boehner reiterated that language approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline would be part of the bill. “It would be silly to do an energy and jobs bill that doesn’t include it,” Boehner said.
Despite the inclusion of the controversial pipeline and drilling measures—both of which are nonstarters with Democrats in both chambers—Boehner warned that inaction would drain the Highway Trust Fund by 2013. At that point, highway spending would be limited to gasoline-tax receipts. That would be tantamount to a 30 percent to 35 percent cut in funding, he said, which would require a general-fund transfer to maintain funding. Boehner took a swipe at the Senate's transportation bill, saying that under that language the Highway Trust Fund also would run out of money by early fall of 2013.
“If Congress adopts the bill we’re talking about here, the Highway Trust Fund will remain solvent through 2016 and will be fully paid for,” Boehner said.