Dumping on House Conservatives

In July, House Republicans proposed a six-year transportation bill that would have spent $38.2 billion per year.  Existing revenues coming into the federal Highway Trust Fund would have covered the spending, likely avoiding yet another bailout.  In the months since, the bill grew larger – proposing $52.6 billion in spending per year.

According to press reports, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is now threatening “to dump the mess of the highway bill in the lap of conservatives” even as the bill once again tacks to the left: 

To hear top Republicans talk about it — privately, of course — they say they’ve quietly neutralized a series of thorny provisions that formed pockets of opposition to the highway bill.

There’s one major problem that remains: folks who don’t like the price tag, how long it will take for the bill to be paid for and who are hoping for additional deficit reduction.

To paraphrase: it’s the spending, stupid.

Interestingly, Speaker Boehner appeared to concede that point when it comes to the Ryan Budget.  Yesterday he said, “There’s a lot of pent-up demand from our Members to show the American people a way forward to fiscal sanity … and we’re going to do that.”

If House Republican leaders were truly interested in fiscal sanity, they would not be advocating a $52.6 billion per year transportation bill.  The Senate bill, which has been widely panned by House Republicans for being fiscally irresponsible, blows a hole in the HTF by spending $54.5 billion per year.

The mantra from House Republican leaders is that “conservatives hold the keys” on the highway bill.  If they honestly believe that, they should be moving the bill to the right, not to the left.  Instead, it appears “moderates” like Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH) are steering the process.  Congressman LaTourette’s solution is to tack further left so that “They could, God forbid, produce a bill that could get some Democrats to vote for it.”

Taking the LaTourette approach makes absolutely no sense if the entire bill is a negotiating ploy:

In truth, House Republicans don’t think their bill will become law. They simply want to insert into the conversation the reforms that they’ve been longing for: more state flexibility and quicker project approval, for example. Leadership wants to strengthen their hand in negotiations with the Senate, which is working on passing its bill now.

If House Republican leaders want to strengthen their negotiating hand and send a signal to the American people they are truly committed to changing Washington, the bill should move right…substantially right.

Negotiating with big-government types, in either party, will not produce a bill that conservatives can rally around or that is good for the future of the country.  Instead, it will only breed cynicism and reinforce the steadily growing notion that these Republicans have not learned their lesson.

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