Energy issues largely unrelated to transportation are threatening to turn what has traditionally been bipartisan collaboration on infrastructure legislation into a partisan quagmire.
On Tuesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., introduced a $260 billion proposal to fund highways, public transit, and road-safety programs for the next five years. A major transportation bill hasn’t been passed since 2005. Congress has merely approved stopgap legislation in the interim to keep dollars flowing for transportation projects.
The House GOP bill would keep funding roughly at current levels, redirect some authorities to states, and streamline project reviews. But the two most controversial aspects of the bill were not addressed by Mica at its unveiling on Tuesday afternoon: paying for projects by expanding oil and gas drilling and including a potential new effort to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama rejected last month in the face of a GOP-imposed deadline.
When asked about the revenue side of the proposal, Mica deferred to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., whose committees have jurisdiction over the thorniest parts of the legislation.
“Try 225-3121. That’s information,” Mica quipped, giving the phone number for the Capitol switchboard. “Ask for either Mr. Camp or Doc Hastings. They’ll give you a good response.”
Mica also skirted answering whether or not he wants the proposed Keystone XL pipeline included in the bill, given that such an amendment could siphon away even more Democratic support than including drilling revenues would.
Hastings’s committee plans to mark up a trio of oil- and gas-drilling bills on Wednesday that House Republicans say would help pay for the transportation legislation. But it is still unclear how much transportation funding could come from expanded drilling.
Mica’s committee will mark up the transportation bill on Thursday. If it eventually wins House approval, the bill would face uncertain prospects in the Senate precisely because of the two energy components. Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., revealed on Tuesday that he is amenable to funding the transportation bill by expanding drilling, but it’s a nonstarter for the committee chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Both Inhofe and Boxer oppose including the Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate bill.
Inhofe said he would instead prefer to see language approving the pipeline included in a must-pass bill, and he added that the transportation bill would be hard enough to pass on its own without the project attached.
Boxer, not surprisingly, was more pointed. “Speaker [John] Boehner has to explain to the American people why he would jeopardize 2.8 million jobs by putting such a controversial amendment on there,” Boxer said.
A two-year, $109 billion transportation package that does not include revenues from drilling was approved unanimously by Boxer’s committee last fall. The Senate Finance Committee has the bill now and is seeking to fill a $12 billion funding gap. A Democratic aide on the Finance Committee said the panel has not yet scheduled a markup.