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Senate Leaders Clash Over Highway Bill

Senate leaders clashed on the floor today over a transportation bill they hope to finish, as the Senate is poised to vote on as many as 30 amendments to the measure.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects to begin voting about 2:15 p.m.

But with such a large number of votes to take, the Senate is likely to only consider the first 10 amendments and finish the rest next week.

Reid blamed Republicans for delaying action on the measure, which the Senate began considering early last month.

“Republican leaders have wasted weeks of the Senate’s time … to extract purely political … votes on unrelated matters,” Reid said, a reference to a vote the Senate took last week to kill a GOP amendment that would have allowed companies and insurance providers to opt out of mandated birth control coverage for religious reasons.

“There is no single piece of legislation now before Congress that would do more to immediately create American jobs and sharpen our global competitiveness than this piece of legislation,” Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he didn’t understand why Democrats and President Barack Obama were advocating against amendments that he believes would help the economy and create jobs.

He specifically referred to an amendment from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The amendment would need 60 votes to pass.

“Most Americans strongly support building this pipeline and the jobs that would come with it,” McConnell said. “And it’s incomprehensible to me that the president of the United States is lobbying against it.

“It’s hard to even comprehend how out of touch he is on this issue,” McConnell said, referring to reports that the White House made phone calls last night to some Members urging them to oppose the Hoeven proposal.

A short-term deal extending the payroll tax cut at the end of the year included a provision requiring the White House to make a decision on approving the pipeline by the end of February. The White House rejected the project because it said the deadline did not provide enough time for an adequate review. But the White House invited TransCanada, the firm building the project to reapply.

Democrats have a competing Keystone XL proposal, which will be offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden’s amendment would require that the pipeline permit application be approved or denied within 90 days of government analyses but would bar companies from exporting oil from Keystone.

“We’ve got an opportunity to work together to create jobs,” McConnell continued. “We can do that with these amendments. And we can do that by taking up the bipartisan jobs bill the House will pass later today.”

McConnell also praised a bipartisan package of capital formation measures designed to help small businesses that the House is poised to pass today and said that the measure could be a bipartisan victory if the Senate takes it up.

“It’s an example of a measure that is supported by Republicans and Democrats and the president that we believe will clear the House with a very large majority,” McConnell said. “I think the sooner we pass that here in the Senate and send it down to the president for signature, the better.”

Reid said he plans to try to move a Senate version of small-business bills and plans to go to conference.

“The House bill is not perfect, and we are going to try to do something here to match and get to conference and get this done,” Reid said.

Looking ahead after passage of the transportation bill, Reid said he plans to try to confirm about 12 judges and hopes to bring up either a postal reform bill or cybersecurity legislation.

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