(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.
"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.
"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.
Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.
"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.
How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.
Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."
The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”
"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.