Newspaper article Roll Call

Democrats Face Risky Votes Ahead of Memorial Day Recess

Newspaper article Roll Call

Democrats Face Risky Votes Ahead of Memorial Day Recess

Article excerpt

House Democrats have some tough decisions to make before Congress breaks for a week-long Memorial Day recess.

Walking a fine line between practicality and messaging, rank-and- file members are weighing their options for having the most impact on two legislative agenda items: A short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund and the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

Some lawmakers think if they withhold votes for either of these measures, they'll be sending strong statements against proverbial can-kicking and sequester-level spending caps.

Those "no" votes, however, carry some political risk.

Voting against a bill that would keep countless transportation and infrastructure projects -- and jobs -- afloat past May 31 is hard to defend at first blush. Still, a growing number of Democrats and even some GOP moderates are arguing what's more destructive is the succession of short-term patches preventing longterm certainty and sustainability.

Late last week, a bipartisan House coalition of mainly Democrats was looking for co-signers on a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner, R- Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pledging opposition to anything short of a multiyear highway bill. The measure due for consideration this week would extend the Highway Trust Fund, set to expire this month, through July 31.

Proponents say the extension buys Congress time to negotiate a six- or seven-year solution and reach consensus on the disagreements on offsets and costs. But Democrats counter they don't have many options left to force leadership on both sides of the aisle to come to the table and hash out that elusive deal.

"What you're seeing is people reaching a boiling point about the irresponsibility of not having a longterm transportation fund with a longterm funding source," Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in the letter to Boehner and Pelosi. "This is protesting a failure to do our jobs."

For Democrats worrying over the ramifications of voting against a short-term Highway Trust Fund extension, Welch said there was little to fear: If he and his allies were successful in sinking the patch, leaders would be compelled to act quickly to strike a compromise.

"Things can happen quickly around here when they have to," he said.

Another co-signer, Rep. John Carney, D-Del., admitted there were a number of colleagues who would have liked to join the effort but didn't want to pretend a longterm agreement was tenable just days before the current Highway Trust Fund extension expires.

"Our tactic was mainly to send a message that people have this view," Carney explained. "I think we've been successful, at least, in thinking about it and focusing on how do you actually force action or force folks to face up to the reality and in that sense we've had great dialogue. …

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