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Democrats Hold Their Noses, Help Pass Highway Fund Patch

Amodei voted "present" Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Amodei voted "present" Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Democrats had two difficult votes to take on Tuesday, and for the most part, they held their collective noses and voted “yes” with Republicans.  

Lawmakers passed, 357-67, the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill to fund the operations of the House and congressional support agencies. They also voted to float the Highway Trust Fund an additional two months in an even larger bipartisan showing, 387-35, with one lawmaker, Mark Amodei, R-Nev., voting “present.” Last week, Democrats were railing against appropriations measures that adhered to sequester levels and short-term highway bills that failed to provide long-term financial certainty to transportation and infrastructure projects across the country.  

But when it came to opposing the smallest and least controversial of the annual appropriations bill, and legislation that simply extended existing spending authority, lawmakers on the fence ultimately decided to save their energy for bigger battles.  

The Democratic “no” votes on the legislative branch bill still hint at frustration with Republicans for not agreeing to lift the spending caps necessitated by sequestration. Some members, like Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., were also concerned the legislation didn’t address the longstanding congressional pay freeze of $174,000 per lawmaker.  

Among the 62 Democrats who opposed the measure were the party’s top three House leaders — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina — along with Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey of New York and Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairwoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.  

Another Democrat voting “no” was Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee was urging colleagues last week to speak with one voice about their opposition to spending bills that underfunded key initiatives.  

Just days earlier , Democrats appeared close to coalescing around a strategy to try and sink anything other than a multi-year highway bill. In the end, it was tough to convince members to oppose what might be their only legislative opportunity to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from expiring on May 31.  

On Tuesday, 23 Democrats voted against the two-month extension, a number that’s likely to rise if another short-term patch gets put on the floor to meet the July 31 deadline. Opponents included Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and John Carney, D-Del., two of the most vocal critics of proverbial can-kicking who were spearheading a letter at one point wherein members could pledge not to support another stopgap.  

Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, Caucus Vice-Chairman Joe Crowley of New York, and Clyburn were also among those who voted “no” on the Highway Trust Fund extension. Transportation ranking member Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., voted “yes.”  

Republicans who voted “no” on the legislative branch bill were among the more conservative members who are known to defect on spending measures; GOP lawmakers who voted against the Highway Trust Fund ran the gamut from moderates who want a long-term fix to hardliners who think transportation funding is best left to the states.  


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