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The Highway Bill and ANWR: It’s a Trap!

Well, it appears that our efforts are paying off.  Responding to our charge that the GOP was violating the pledge against bundled megabills, Boehner announced that he will split the proposal into three separate bills; the highway bill (HR 7), pension reform (HR 3813), and expanded oil and gas drilling (HR 3408).  This from Roll Call:

In a joint statement with Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.), the Ohio Republican sought to cast the decision as part of his pledge for a more open environment in the House.

“Republicans pledged to pass bills in a more transparent manner and reverse the era of quickly moving massive bills across the floor without proper examination. Accordingly, the energy/infrastructure jobs plan will be considered on the floor in the same manner in which it was written and voted upon in committee — in separate pieces,” Boehner and Dreier said.

Such a process will allow “each major component of the plan to be debated and amended more openly, rather than as a single ‘comprehensive’ bill with limited debate and limited opportunity for amendment,” they added.

This is great news.  But here’s the catch (via CQ subscription):

The idea is that lawmakers would be able to vote their conscience on pieces of the bill, without requiring them to vote on the entire thing — for instance, lawmakers could vote for the authorizing portions of the surface transportation title, but vote down the changes to federal employee pensions.

Then, once the bills are passed separately, the House’s bill clerk would sew them back together and send them to the Senate as one bill.

Hence, any good will on the part of conservatives to vote for the good bills (pension reform and drilling) will be pocketed and rejoined with the unappealing highway bill.  The Rules Committee will meet tonight and write a structured rule to combine the bills upon passage, and have them shipped off to the Senate as one entity.  This will facilitate passage of the highway bill and allow a future conference committee to denude it of the offsets, leaving House members with a plain deficit-inducing highway bill.

Republican leaders employed the same subterfuge with passage of the omnibus bill last December.  They proposed an omnibus bill that, when coupled with $10 billion in emergency spending, would set spending levels for FY 2012 ($1.053.9 trillion) higher than those of FY 2011 ($1.047 trillion).  So they broke up the proposal into three separate bills; an omnibus with spending levels slightly below FY 2011 ($1.043 trillion), an emergency disaster relief bill ($10.6 billion), and a bill to offset the disaster spending, which they knew would be jettisoned by Democrats in the Senate. This allowed members who voted for the omnibus to go on record as saying that they voted to offset the extraneous spending, thereby keeping their pledge to spend less than the previous year.  It also enabled Senate Democrats to pass the underlying omnibus bill, along with the emergency spending, but easily vote down the offsets in the third bill.  And that is exactly what they did today.

What’s that saying about “fool me once etc.?”  Don’t fall into the trap.  Don’t get distracted by the ANWR provisions.  Keep your sights on the highway bill.  The end result will be a top-down federal highway bill that requires an immediate $40 billion bailout for a new mass transit account and future bailouts down the road.  Either way, there will be no pension reform or expanded oil drilling from the final version of the bill.  This is yet another example of the shenanigans that are so endemic of Washington politics.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project

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