Thursday, June 28, 2012

GOP claiming victories in likely highway bill deal despite Keystone elimination

From: The Hill's Transportation Report

A House Republican leadership aide said Wednesday that an emerging compromise between the chambers of Congress on a new surface transportation bill was a victory for GOP negotiators.

The aide would not confirm the counters of the deal that have been reported Wednesday — that House priorities like the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and provisions dealing with coal ash would be left out — but the aide said that the final compromise would be "a substantial improvement over the original Senate bill.

“At the end of the day, Senate Democrats fought for red tape, while House Republicans fought for jobs – and got some important wins," the GOP aide said.

Details of a potential deal between the House and Senate have been emerging throughout the day Wednesday. The leading Senate Republican on the 47-member committee that has been conferencing on the transportation bill for two months confirmed to reporters that Keystone and coal ash would be left on the negotiating table.

“Keystone and coal ash are really one-shot deals," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Wednesday. "If you get on streamlining [of transportation projects] that is for the next decade or so,” he said.

The GOP leadership aide said an agreement was not yet completely finalized, but the aide said the deal that was in the works includes regulatory streamlines sought by the House and also states to opt out of spending money on programs like bike and pedestrian improvements.

The GOP summary of the likely agreement said the deal would maintain current funding levels for transportation.

The agreement also appeared to not include funding for land use and water conversation that had been included in the Senate's version of the transportation measure.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier Wednesday that the compromise on the highway bill would also include a one-year extension of current student loan interest rates. The rates had been set to double at the end of the month, when transportation funding was also scheduled to expire.

Boehner said the bicameral compromise that was shaping up would "allow us to focus our highway dollars on fixing America’s highways, not planting more flowers around the country."

—Russell Berman contributed to this report.

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