It’s funny how quickly House Republicans will tell conservative groups to take a hike when refusing to engage in basic governing becomes politically unsustainable.
Late yesterday, the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly passed a temporary $10.9 billion fix to the Highway Trust Fund, replenishing it until next spring. The White House had warned insolvency could grind state infrastructure projects to a halt and cost as many as 700,000 jobs. As Glenn Kessler explains, this figure is probably overstated. But economic firms such as Moody’s Analytics were warning that failure could imperil the recovery just when it may be poised to accelerate.
The House GOP fix is loaded with gimmicks, and it defers the tougher decisions over how to keep the fund going over the long term. But it avoids a short term disaster, so the White House is supporting it grudgingly. I’m told the Dem-controlled Senate will likely pass it. “We’ll probably end up passing theirs,” a Senate Dem aide emails.
Conservative groups such as Heritage Action had warned darkly that Republicans must not “bail out” the HTF. Yet the HTF fix passed the House by 367-55. As the New York Times observes, this was “another in a series of defeats for conservative groups” who think “responsibility for highways and bridges should return to state and local governments.”
The battle over infrastructure in the context of the HTF is one area where GOP anti-government rhetoric collides with reality. It’s easy for Republicans to strut around ranting about crony capitalism, and they know they can attack the Export-Import Bank’s efforts to help U.S. exporters as improper Big Gummint meddling in the economy because no one cares about it. But here was a case where infrastructure projects — and jobs — could have been put on ice in many GOP districts.
All of this has ramifications for the bigger battle to come, over how to fund the HTF over the long term. As the Times editorial board observes today, infrastructure funding is “one of the most basic functions of government,” and the “enormous cost to society of poor infrastructure grows every year, and most of the blame can be placed directly on a Congress that refuses to collect and spend enough money to fix it.” Indeed, according to Moody’s calculations, state and local investment in infrastructure as a percentage of GDP is lower than at any point since World War II.
It’s true both parties are to blame for the failure to find a longer-term fix for the HTF, which could revolve around raising the gas tax or deficit spending, things lawmakers in both parties are loath to embrace. But the bigger picture is that Dems will probably prove more open to raising new revenues for the HTF over the long term than Republicans will. However, the fact that Republicans told the Tea Party to take a hike on a short term fix perhaps bodes well, suggesting that saying No to a longer term fix will also be tough to do.
* BATTLE BREWING OVER RESPONSE TO BORDER CRISIS: Politico reports that House Republicans are moving forward with their own plan, to address the border crisis, which would provide less money than Obama wants while making changes to the 2008 law to speed removals, in keeping with the scheme proposed by Senator John Cornyn and Rep. Henry Cuellar. But:
As much as half of the 55-member Senate Democratic Caucus would oppose changes to the 2008 trafficking law, according to one Senate Democratic aide. Another Senate aide said opposition to Cornyn and Cuellar’s plan is especially deep.
Still unclear: Will Senate Democrats try to move their own bill giving Obama the funding they want, with no changes to the 2008 law, or will they propose something that does include changes, which would lose Democratic support, and try to pass it with Republicans? The latter option would infuriate the left, which is strongly urging against expedited removals that could make the process less humane and legally sound for the arriving children.
* DEMS RIP WHITE HOUSE OVER BORDER CRISIS: Related to the above: Some Congressional Democrats are adamantly insisting that no changes to the 2008 law be made, and are blaming the White House for initially signaling openness to this course of action:
“The White House shouldn’t have opened the door at all on that discussion,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz). “The White House makes every effort, particularly on immigration, to try to split the baby. But in this case it’s impossible.”
Yet Republicans don’t appear willing to support any funding without changes to the law as concessions, and the Hill speculates that we really could end up with no response to the crisis from Congress before the August recess.
* DEMS HAVE FUNDRAISING EDGE IN BATTLE FOR SENATE: Nicholas Confessore has a good overview of the current fundraising situation, noting that Democratic Senate candidates have outraised Republicans in five out of eight criical races, and adding this:
The fund-raising success comes at a critical point. Democrats appear to have weathered an expensive onslaught of outside spending from Republican and conservative groups, with most of the pivotal races remaining competitive. But the dominance of outside money will soon fade as candidates begin to spend more aggressively in the effort to define themselves and attack their opponents.
Right. Many of these embattled Dem incumbents are showing surprising staying power despite all the outside spending, and we have not yet seen what will happen when Dem incumbents and candidates seriously engage on the air.
* DEMS TO ROLL OUT POLICY BLUEPRINT FOR FALL CAMPAIGN: Today House Democrats will introduce a series of policy proposals that incumbents and candidates can campaign on in the runup to the midterm elections this fall:
If Democrats were to retake control, their “100 Day Democratic Action Plan to Put the Middle Class First” would call for approving a package of tax cuts for companies creating more jobs; end tax breaks for large corporations as a way to fund bonds to pay for new infrastructure projects; raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; ensure that men and women earn equal pay and sick leave from their employers; bolster the Violence Against Women Act; and approve reforms to the student loan program championed in recent months by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
It’s worth recalling that House Dems successfully campaigned on an agenda of concrete proposals when they took back the House in 2006, though obviously the difference this time is Dems have controlled the White House for six years and are widely expected to lose seats this fall. Nancy Pelosi insists it’s too early to make that prediction.
* THE BIG PICTURE IN OUR IMMIGRATION DEBATE: Simon Rosenberg has a very nice overview of the recent history of the immigration debate and where we are today. As he notes, a bipartisan reform bill has passed the Senate, and the only remaining obstacle to it is House Republicans, whose only response to the short and long term crisis is “deport the kids.”
The both-sides-to-blame pundits will not inform readers of the basic facts here: There is a broad compromise sitting right there in plain sight, and it already has the support of many Republican constituencies, but House Republicans won’t vote on anything, because it would make the base angry.
* AND MAJOR REPUBLICAN DONORS FEEL PERSECUTED: The Washington Examiner reports that Dem Super PACS are vastly outraising GOP Super PACs, supposedly because GOP donors worry about persecution from the IRS and public criticism from Dems who have hammered the Koch brothers:
Added Charlie Spies, a Republican attorney who has run various super PACs, including the main outside group that supported Mitt Romney‘s 2012 presidential bid: “With some donors, Sen. Reid’s concerted effort to demonize political giving as made an impact.”
Wait, so wielding outsized influence over who controls the Senate means your policy agenda might be subjected to a bit of scrutiny? Life is so unfair!