WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz introduced a motion Tuesday meant to push negotiators working on a surface transportation funding bill to finish their work by the end of the week.
The non-binding resolution asks members of a joint House-Senate conference committee to come to an agreement on the bill before Friday, eight days before transportation funding will expire in lieu of congressional action.
The Senate passed a two-year transportation bill in March. Minnesota stands to bring in about $1.4 billion in transportation funding over the course of the bill.
Republican leadership introduced a House version of the bill, but disputes over the size of the bill prevented it from ever coming up for a vote. Congress passed a 90-day extension of federal transportation funding in the waning days of the month.
Federal transportation programs have been working on a short-term basis like that for several years. The last multi-year transportation bill passed in 2005. In a floor speech Tuesday evening, his second on the topic that day, Walz noted that bill’s huge bipartisan support — it passed the House 412-8 and the Senate, 91-4.
“We simply need to exercise the political willpower to move this piece of legislation,” he said.
Most Republicans voiced their support for Walz’s motion during debate, but laid out their basic concerns about the process: that the Senate bill, while bipartisan, does not reflect their desires to consolidate programs, eliminate bureaucratic permitting procedures and reform the funding formula for highway projects.
They argued the senators on the conference committee have not been willing to work with them on a final deal; Minnesota Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack, a member of the conference committee, said he’s met with Senate staffers on the issue, but never actual lawmakers.
“If the Senate is as serious as we are about getting this done early next week, I hope they engage in good faith and a bicameral fashion,” he said.
Democrats argued that the Senate bill is a fine bipartisan compromise, and blamed House Republicans with setting their expectations for a final deal too high.
Walz, who is a member of the House Transportation Committee but not the conference committee, mostly focused on the underlying purpose of his motion: that conferees should come to a deal, any deal, before the end of the month.
“How about we come together and pass a bill that people will say, ‘They did the people’s work, they compromised,’” he said. “It’s not about getting what each of us wants; it’s about getting what the American public needs.”
House and Senate leadership met on Tuesday to discuss the state of the bill, but made no real progress on the measure. If a final deal is not reached this month, House Speaker John Boehner reportedly wants a six-month extension of current highway funding, pushing final congressional action on a long-term highway bill to after November’s elections.
The House could vote on Walz’s motion on Wednesday.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry