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The Hill - GOP Conferees: Highway Bill Ads Galvanized Supporters

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By Keith Laing

A pair of Republican highway conference members that have been targeted by an advertising campaign by construction groups said Thursday that the political ads have helped galvanize support in their districts for their positions in the contentious negotiations.

The Washington, D.C.-based Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) said this week it was running ads arguing in favor of Congress reaching a compromise on the transportation bill targeting Reps. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio).

But Lankford and Southerland, who are both freshmen lawmakers, said Thursday that the advertisements had raised the profile among their constituents about the disagreements between the chambers on the transportation funding measure

"I've yet to have a person hang up and not say stick your guns," Lankford said in a conference call with reporters. "I'm quite pleased that they're running these ads against us because they've emboldened our base."

The GOP members of the 47-lawmaker conference committee that has been attempting to negotiate a possible House-Senate agreement on transportation for a month said that Wednesday's finger-pointing between leaders of the panel had them concerned about the rest of the negotiations.

"I'm worried about whether Sen. [Barbara] Boxer (D-Calif.) really wants a bill," Southerland said of the chairwoman of the transportation conference, who said this week that the House lacked "urgency" about the highway bill negotiations.

Southerland said the GOP members of the highway conference would continue to insist on provisions that were included in the original five-year, $260 billion transportation bill that was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, despite criticism from Democrats on the panel about the fact that the legislation was never approved by the full lower-chamber.

He also said the House would continue pushing for a mandate to force the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite resistance to the provision thus far from Senate leaders on the highway conference committee.

"I think the American people want us to find a happy medium," Southerland said Thursday. "I don't think anything is off the table."

The TCC ads against Southerland, Lankford and the two other GOP highway conferees argued that they should help break the logjam on transportation spending. The Senate has pushed for Republicans in the House to accept a two-year, $109 billion version of the transportation that passed the upper chamber earlier this year, although that measure would only provide funding for the next 18 months now that negotiations have stretched to the middle of the year.

But Southerland pushed back on that argument Thursday, saying the Senate should move closer to the House.

"The Senate has in fact moved inches when we're miles apart," he said. "When you do a conference, you do not need just a bipartisan bill, it requires a bicameral bill. That's the way the constitution is set up."

The leading Republcan on the highway conference, House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), also reiterated the House's opposition to accept the Senate's version of the highway bill.

"House conferees stand ready to negotiate in good faith but there must be a willingness on the part of the Senate to do the same," Mica said Thursday in a statement. "We believe our solutions are fair and practicable."

Acknowledging the specter of a continued stalemate however, Mica also said that "if an agreement cannot be reached the House will not allow these important programs to expire."

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