Rep. Reid Ribble among negotiators for national highway bill
Green Bay Press Gazette: Rep. Reid Ribble among negotiators for national highway bill (published May 19 2012)
By: Larry Bivins
WASHINGTON — When House and Senate negotiators convened for the first time to begin workingon legislation to pay for bridges, highways and mass transit, Rep. Reid Ribble was among a cadre of Republican freshmen at the table.
The fact that House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, chose seven rookies among the 20 Republicans he named to serve on the surface transportation fundingHouse-Senate conference committee says a lot about the clout of the 87-member GOP freshman class.
Ribble, R-Sherwood, said he felt rewarded for hard workin being selected to serve on the committee, given he is next to last on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Republican totem pole.
"It's an honor as a freshman to be included," Ribble said. "I was the last person put on T&I (Transportation and Infrastructure)."
Typically, such panels are dominated by senior members of the committees with jurisdiction over the various elements of a bill and subcommittee chairmen.
But Boehner has made an effort "to involve the freshman classmore," spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Some observers might say the House speaker is acting with good reason, given the pressure exerted on him by members of the freshman class, many of them tea party Republicans, to adhere to a strict conservative doctrine when it comes to spending matters.
"Our goal with this bill is to end the status quo and improve the way taxpayer dollars are spent," Buck said. "That's exactly what our freshmen were elected to do, and Rep. Ribble is a leader in his class as well as on the committee — as evidenced by his insistence on key measures to streamline the infrastructure approval process."
Not on the conferencecommittee — composed of 33 House members and 14 senators — is Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, who in his 17th congressional term is the second most senior Republican on the transportation committee and chairman of the subcommittee on aviation. Ribble is a member of the subcommittee.
The conference committee's task is to resolve the differences between a two-year, $109 billion reauthorization bill approved by the Senate and a House Republican measure that calls for spending $260 billion over five years. The House never voted on the plan developed by transportation committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla.
Currently, transportation funding to the states is provided through a 10th extension of the surface transportation authorization bill that expired in September 2009.
One of the more controversial items will be the authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline construction that's included in the House proposal. President Barack Obama has postponed making a decision on the proposal until after this year's election and has threatened to veto any bill that includes the project.
Ribble, who also serves on the railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee, said he supports the pipeline and will push for its authorization because of its job-creating potential.
Another major divergence between the House and Senate proposals centers on how to bolster the Highway Trust Fund that covers about 80 percent of mass transit funding but is running out of money. The Senate bill would shift some funding and reduce some tax breaks to cover the shortfall. House Republicans want to generate revenue by leasing federal land for oil exploration.
Along with weighing in on those thorny issues, Ribble said his primary objectives will be to see that Wisconsin is not left behind.
"My priority is to make sure Wisconsin gets treated fairly in the formulas," Ribble said. "Right now, it's acceptable at 102 percent (under the Senate bill)," meaning Wisconsin's formula-based funding would amount to 102 percent of the revenues the state sends to Washington in highway taxes.
Ribble said he intends to advocate for relief from weight restrictions for trucks on U.S. 41 and mass transit funding for Appleton and Green Bay.
Ribble said he also wants to ensure his amendment to streamline the process for approving infrastructure projects is included in a final bill.
Despite his pride over being named to the conference committee, Ribble was unimpressed by the panel's debut. In fact, he sounded already exasperated.
"I was struck by how much time we wasted with everyone giving statements," Ribble said. "We burned up about 500 man-hours that day. This is how the process works around here."