WASHINGTON — Rep. James Lankford is among the four U.S. House members being targeted by an ad campaign sponsored by a coalition of construction and labor groups that want Congress to approve funding for highways.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, is among the House negotiators on a two-year highway bill that has been stalled in a House-Senate conference committee for weeks.
Congress is facing a June 30 deadline to pass the bill; otherwise, another temporary extension of current law would be required, likely prompting more frustration from state highway officials seeking some certainty for their long-term projects.
A radio ad, paid for by the Transportation Construction Coalition, says Lankford has a key voice in the debate and urges listeners to call the lawmaker's office.
“Will Congressman James Lankford be part of the problem or part of Oklahoma's transportation solution?'' the ad says.
Lankford said on Wednesday he was working with the rest of the negotiators to find a “fiscally responsible decision that ensures the future of our nation's transportation system.”
He said, “Any implication that I am not trying to accomplish a long-term transportation bill is absurd. The federal construction process is so complicated and expensive that our first step should be to simplify it, but we also cannot continue to add more and more debt. An out-of-state special interest group is welcome to express its opinion, but my responsibility is to the people of the 5th District of Oklahoma.”
Inhofe favors bill
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is the lead Republican negotiator for the Senate and has been pushing for passage of the two-year bill approved by a wide margin in the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate's lead negotiator, held a rally in Washington featuring a convoy of cement trucks urging House members to agree to the bill.
Inhofe said in a recent interview with The Oklahoman that he had been personally calling “tea party'' members of the House negotiating committee to persuade them to accept the bill's funding levels, which would essentially maintain the status quo.
The House had contemplated a bill that would have slashed funding to states for road and bridge repair.
Aside from the issue of financing, the House also amended the highway bill to require approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to carry crude oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Inhofe, a strong supporter of the pipeline, said he wants the provision to survive but doesn't want to lose the highway bill over it.
Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican who is leading the House negotiators, said Wednesday that he remains hopeful a compromise can be reached on the bill and that he would talk to other House negotiators on Thursday.
“However, I am disappointed in the fact that Senate negotiators have yet to move significantly on key House reform proposals,” Mica said. “In addition, the Senate leadership appears unwilling to compromise at all on the Keystone XL pipeline.”