Some of the biggest lobbying interests on K Street with long-standing ties to the GOP reserved their toughest criticism Thursday for House Republicans who are mobilizing against an infrastructure bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Most attention on the bill’s fate has focused on House Democrats, who have their own problems passing the bill despite holding the majority because numerous members of the party’s progressive wing are withholding support until the chamber takes a vote on a broader $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Thursday during a conference call that some House Republicans privately admit they’d like to support the infrastructure measure, but don’t want to cross their leadership or conservative outside groups.
“I think there are some unfortunate things going on, and I’m being generous with the term unfortunate,” Bradley said, adding that there was “a lot of misinformation about the bill.”
It’s certainly not the first time business interests have been at odds with Republican lawmakers. Though long seen as aligned on numerous policy matters, Republicans, fueled by the tea party wave of 2010, have taken stances against the Chamber and other business lobbies.
‘Boggles the mind’
Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, said on the same call that the bill was popular with voters. He noted that given the measure’s bipartisan support in the Senate, lobbying interests were having a hard time grappling with the politics in the House where Republicans seem intent on denying President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats a legislative achievement. He also blamed House progressive Democrats.
“That’s why it boggles the mind that the progressives in the House have decided to take a very popular hostage and Republican leadership has decided to not rescue that very popular hostage when they easily could,” Johnson said on the call.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was dismissive of business groups' support for the measure, and he indicated there was a larger rift between his party and the U.S. Chamber. He pointed to the chamber’s endorsement in the 2020 elections of Democratic candidates, though the chamber also endorsed Republicans, too.
“I don’t know that the chamber’s an ally when they endorsed all the Democrats in the last election,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “I think they probably changed.”
He added that he opposed the infrastructure bill because not enough of the funding would go toward roads and bridges.
“The hardworking taxpayers in the 23rd District want money to go to the roads and bridges, and they don’t think this bill does that,” McCarthy said, referring to his California congressional district.
Key vote designation
Two high-profile conservative organizations, the Conservative Political Action Conference and the American Conservative Union, oppose the infrastructure bill and said Thursday they would include it on their list of key votes that determine how often lawmakers vote in line with their position.
The groups called the bill, which would extend highway and other programs and provide an additional $550 billion for infrastructure, including broadband, “rife with wasteful spending and giveaways to special interests. Billions of dollars that are supposed to be used for rebuilding this country’s roads and bridges are instead being spent on programs such as tax credits and subsidies for electric car companies, money to ‘advance racial equity’ and funds to force our school kitchens to ‘go green.’”
The chamber’s Bradley, a former House GOP leadership aide, said that his group had conducted hundreds of meetings with lawmakers and said opposition was not on substance but on politics.
“If this vote today was occurring on the merits of the bill, the outcome wouldn’t be in doubt and we’d have a supermajority,” he said. “It’s not the substance that people are disagreeing with here. People decided to play politics.”
He added that House Republicans’ “willingness to shoot the hostage” would have real consequences for infrastructure policy. The bill would not only speed funding and timelines for roads and bridges and other projects but would also expedite the replacement of lead pipes and would update the nation’s electrical grid.
“All of those things can be fixed by this bill, but not a single one of them will be fixed if politics wins today,” Bradley said.
‘Put America first’
Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said lawmakers who vote against the bill were doing a disservice to the country.
“We expect them to put America first before their own jobs,” Spear told reporters. “That’s what they were sent here to do. This is inexcusable. If this bill goes down today, it is an embarrassment. Every one of them, Republicans and Democrats, should be ashamed of themselves.”
Bradley said that the chamber, which has a long-standing political program, would be keeping track of the debate. He noted some of the lawmakers who have boosted the infrastructure measure, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, as well as Reps. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican.
And he had a warning for those seeking to kill it.
“At the end of the day, members are gonna vote, but we’re also, at the U.S. Chamber, going to remember the members who put in the hard work to get us to this point, and they deserve credit,” Bradley said. “And anyone who kind of stands in their way and blocks this bill, that’ll be remembered, as well.”
Chris Marquette contributed to this report.