In a couple of hours, the House will vote on the transportation extension bill – under unanimous consent rules. That means a single vote in opposition could delay passage.
It’s unclear how we went from a House determined to cut spending levels by more than 30 percent to a House unanimously committed to passing a bill with current spending levels. It’s unclear even that this unanimous vote plan will work. Republican party discipline isn’t what it used to be, what with the Tea Party revolt just loving to accuse House Speaker John Boehner of being a tax-and-spend liberal.
However, rumor has it that House Republicans are being told that the extension’s spending levels don’t change the appropriations levels the House is willing to approve, and that’s $27.7 billion for the year for highways and $5.2 billion for transit. So if the extension authorizes $19.8 billion for highways for the first six months and $4.2 billion for transit, that’s fine: It just means that for the whole second half of the year, highways would only get $7.9 billion and transit would only get $800 million. Those are deadly cuts, but it appears that transportation leaders are putting off that fight till later in order to pass an extension now.
Meanwhile, if the extension bill doesn’t pass the House by unanimous consent, the House will need to follow normal rules of order to pass it by majority vote. That means it’ll need to wait a full 72 hours between the posting of the bill and the vote, and that would mean a Wednesday vote. It could also open the door to a messy amendment process.
Speaking of amendments: In the Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is planning to file an amendment to cut Transportation Enhancements from the six-month extension. It’s good news that he’s doing it as an amendment and not a hold on the bill, since a hold is a unilateral move to force the Senate to utilize a much more time-consuming process to vote on the bill. His amendment will likely fail, since many senators who would normally vote with him to cut bike/ped funding are committed to passing a clean extension, with no amendments.
If Coburn’s amendment does fail, he can lose graciously — or he can try to filibuster. It’s unclear whether he plans to do that. While the House is hoping to have 100 percent support for the bill, insiders fear that in the Senate, the bill could fall short of the 60 percent majority it needs to overcome a filibuster.
The Senate hasn’t yet introduced a (six-month) surface transportation and (four-month) FAA extension bill to replace the four-month surface transportation extension passed by the EPW Committee last Thursday. It won’t go through the same process – the extension will be filed as an amendment attached to an enormously popular bill that House Majority Leader Harry Reid has reportedly been holding on to for just this purpose – as a vehicle to get more controversial measures passed by adding them as amendments. The bill itself deals with sanctions against Burma, a cause dear to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s heart.
So, the transportation extension will be an amendment attached to the Burma bill, and Coburn’s TE cut will be an amendment to the transportation amendment. Clear enough?
Meanwhile, according to our sources, Sens. Boxer and Inhofe of EPW agree that any amendment – even to the six-month extension – would be a violation of their delicate bipartisan deal on the two-year reauthorization. They require a clean extension.