Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to meet with the Senate to negotiate a bill funding federal highway and transit programs. House Members approved a motion to go to conference with the Senate (who moved to go to Conference on Tuesday) on the transportation reauthorization bill by unanimous consent, setting up what could be several weeks of discussions with the Senate.
Speaker of the House John Boehner named 33 conferees to negotiate the House surface transportation reauthorization bill, H.R. 4348 which passed last week while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid named 14 conferees to negotiate the Senate reauthorization bill, S. 1813. Conferees will officially commence the conference on Tuesday, May 8. While the make-up of the Senate and House Democrat conferees is comprised of the senior members of committees with jurisdiction over various parts of the bill, freshman Republican members of the House outnumber their veteran colleagues on the conference committee. This fact can be seen as an acknowledgement by Speaker Boehner that in order to move a bill out of conference and through the House floor there will need to be buy-in from the influential Republican freshman class.
In conference, the Senate would appear to have the upper hand on most transportation policy issues as House could not pass most of the policy initiatives in the original Mica bill (H.R. 7). The House might have some leverage, though, since it could refuse to accept the Senate policy changes and insist on current law. It must be noted that the Keystone approval provision, because of its controversial nature and its political prominence, could deadlock the conference for a considerable period of time. The environmental streamlining provisions could also be quite controversial.
AGC will work closely with the House and Senate conferees and encourage a quick resolution while urging them to agree on a final product that maintains current funding levels and incorporates many of the reforms proposed by the House and Senate.