A $260 billion proposal to fund transportation projects being introduced by House Republicans on Tuesday is headed for a very bumpy road in Congress as a result of a proposal to pay for it in part with revenues from expanded oil and gas drilling.
Before the bill was unveiled, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., described it on his panel’s website as a plan that “will reform and streamline transportation programs, cut red tape in the project approval process, increase states’ flexibility to fund their most critical needs, and encourage private sector participation in financing and building projects.”
All that probably sounds well and good to most members of Congress, but when Mica goes on to say that the bill will also “remove barriers to domestic energy production,” the trouble begins. Mica and other Republican leaders in the House, including Speaker John Boehner, have been arguing since last fall that expanding domestic energy production could help fund transportation needs.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., added fuel to the fire on Tuesday by posting a video on his website in which he cautiously backs the House proposal to pay for transportation infrastructure with revenues from expanded oil and gas drilling.
“There is no denying that increased energy production could fund a portion of the bill,” Inhofe says in an online video his office planned to post online on Tuesday. The text of the video was obtained by National Journal. Inhofe has previously been cool toward the idea by arguing that transportation projects cannot be funded with future revenues.
“It won’t fund everything, but just like the Senate’s bipartisan approach, many revenue options are possible,” Inhofe says in the video. “It is unfair to call this approach a poison pill just because many Democrats don’t want to tap into this nation’s vast energy resources.”
The Senate is moving forward on another approach to transportation funding that does not include using revenues from oil and gas drilling.
Inhofe’s tentative statement of support for the House GOP plan puts him on a collision course with the Democratic leader of his committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California.
Boxer has spoken out against the House GOP proposal since it was floated in November by Boehner, Mica, and others.
“The proposal by Republican leadership would mire a very popular surface-transportation bill in controversy, and it would directly threaten many thousands of fishing, tourism, and recreation-related jobs,” Boxer said last fall. “In addition, I am told by financial experts that this proposal would fall billions short.”
Boxer’s committee unanimously approved a two-year, $109 billion transportation package last fall that does not include revenues from drilling. The Senate Finance Committee has the bill now in order to find a way to fill a $12 billion gap in funding for the bill. A committee vote on the offset mechanism is expected soon.
“Our bill is going forward the way it is. We’re not changing it,” Boxer said on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s already been put out there. It’s going to be paid for next week, so I’m not fearful that it’ll collapse.”
In response to Inhofe’s statement backing the House plan, Boxer said, “I understand that he supports that. That’s fine. He has a right to support it.”
Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday will mark up a trio of drilling bills that House Republicans intend to use as the way to pay for the transportation proposal. Those bills order the Interior Department to expand leasing opportunities in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico and to promote shale oil production on public lands.