These votes were on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to Republican-designed legislation that would extend programs funding roads, mass transit, and other transportation projects. The first of these two votes was on a procedural motion known as the “previous question" – which effectively ends debate and brings the pending resolution to an immediate vote. The second vote was on passage of the resolution itself.
Republican leadership brought the bill to the floor as Congress was debating how to extend federal transportation programs. The programs were set to expire in less than two months, and if Congress did not act before the deadline, thousands of construction workers would be laid off as funding dried up for construction projects around the country.
The Republican bill would make significant changes to federal transportation programs while extending them through 2016. The bill would cut spending on roads, bridges, and public transit, and use new energy development – such as opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling – to provide a new source of funding for highway construction. The bill also included a requirement that federal employees pay a larger share of the costs of their pensions.
Democrats took issue with the legislation, noting that transportation bills had historically been passed by large bipartisan majorities. But they also objected to the process Republican leadership had set up to consider the bill. It set up a floor debate on the entire bill and separate debates on two smaller pieces of the bill, and members said they wanted House leaders to assure that more amendments could be offered.
“This process is so convoluted and it lacks transparency. I, quite frankly, think my colleagues should be ashamed of bringing this kind of a bill under this kind of process to the floor,” Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) said.
Republicans argued that Democrats were responsible for the partisan nature of the bill because they did not cooperate with members who wrote it. They said the new approach taken by the bill would give states more flexibility to design their own transportation programs.
“The background or the basis of their arguments against this particular rule for this particular bill is they wish to fund transportation programs the old-fashioned way, which means we spend money we don't have,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). “What we're trying to do with this particular bill is go outside of the box and find a way to actually pay for infrastructure improvements, a way to pay for our transportation needs, and to do it with energy development, like we all have a problem with escalating prices of gas at the pump.”
The House agreed to the previous question motion by a vote of 229-181. Voting “yea” were 227 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 181 Democrats. As a result, the House proceeded to a final vote on the resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to the legislation.
The House then agreed by a vote of 235-186 to the resolution setting a time limit for debate and amendments that could be offered to the transportation bill. Voting “yea” were 232 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 182 Democrats and 4 Republicans. As a result, the House approved the time and number of amendments that could be offered during debate of Republican-designed legislation that would extend programs funding roads, mass transit, and other transportation projects.