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October 31, 2014

House Democrats Weigh Voting Down Highway Bill

Democrats are apparently considering a tactic of voting down the House highway bill in hopes that Republicans would have to accept the Senate measure that offers a different timeline for funding construction projects. Asked whether there would be new Democratic opposition to the bill on Wednesday, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland suggested it is possible.

“We think the Senate bill is far better policy, and we’re discussing now our response to that,” Hoyer told reporters.

The Senate passed an amended form of the bill Tuesday, 79-18, changing some of the offsets in the bill and the length of the measure from May to December. Though the Senate bill is a shorter term, the idea is to force Congress to find a more permanent solution in the lame-duck, not in May, at “the beginning of the next construction season,” as Hoyer put it.

Democrats overwhelmingly supported the House version of the bill on July 15 when the measure passed 367-55. There were 45 Republicans voting against the measure. If those same 45 Republicans maintain their opposition, Democrats could force the GOP’s hand. At the very least, some of the Republican dissenters would need to flip their vote to help the measure pass the chamber.

The same would be true of the Democrats who voted for the bill, which Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel was happy to point out.

“It would be transparently cynical for Washington Democrats to flip-flop and oppose this critical highway infrastructure jobs bill,” Steel told CQ Roll Call.

Steel also pointed out that the Senate-passed highway bill contains “a critical error” in its offset. Apparently a customs merchandising fee falls $2 billion short of what senators believed it would bring in, according to the Congressional Budget Office. “The only responsible course is for the Senate to pass the original House-passed highway bill, which we will soon send back to them,” Steel said.

Boehner was emphatic on Tuesday that the House intended to simply send their bill back to the Senate: “I just want to make clear: If the Senate sends a highway bill over here with those provisions, we’re just going to strip it out.”

David Harrison contributed to this report.

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