House GOP Pulls Highway Bill Extension

Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:18pm

Updated: 6:08 p.m.

House GOP leaders today scrapped a 90-day highway extension bill hours before the chamber was scheduled to vote on the measure after it became clear it would fail, largely because of Democratic opposition.

Although a senior GOP aide said leadership planned to bring an extension of the law back to the floor sometime this week, it was unclear whether it would be the 90-day version favored by leaders or a potentially shorter version.

With the highway bill set to expire at the end of the month, Republicans are keen to pass an extension of some sort as soon as possible to avoid either having the law expire, resulting in numerous federal highway funding programs going dark, or a last-minute funding showdown.

House Republicans have struggled over the past month to find a way forward on a long-term highway bill, and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) had hoped a 90-day extension would give him the time to bring enough of his Conference in line to pass one.

But Democrats threw a wrench into those plans today when Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and other leaders began actively whipping against the bill. The bill was scheduled for the suspension calendar, which requires two-thirds of House Members to vote for it to pass. With Democratic opposition, the votes weren’t there. Those efforts prompted Boehner to meet with his leadership this afternoon, when the decision to scrap the evening vote was made.

Earlier in the day, Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) slammed Republicans.

“The Republicans’ belligerent and stubborn ‘my way or the highway’ strategy has once again backfired, but this time the stakes could not be higher for the millions of construction workers whose jobs hang in the balance of this bill as we quickly approach highway programs expiring on Saturday,” Rahall said in a statement. “Instead of considering the bipartisan Senate transportation bill today that would provide some certainty to local communities and construction crews at the start of the construction season, Republican Leaders chose yet again to kick their partisan pothole plan down the road.

“The most responsible path forward at this point would be to drop the political brinkmanship and pass the bipartisan Senate transportation bill that the President could sign before these critical job-creating programs expire Saturday night,” he added.

Heritage Action for America today repeated its warning against passing a transportation bill that is not fully paid for by the Highway Trust Fund.

“Rather than continuing a process of uncertainty that has become emblematic of everything Congress touches, lawmakers must begin the process of turning authority back to the states. Heritage Action remains opposed to any transportation measure that exceeds incoming revenues to the federal Highway Trust Fund,” Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham said.

However, Needham stopped short of outright opposing the 90-day extension, saying, “That said, if an extension does become law, Congress should use the brief reprieve to do transportation policy right.”

The sudden chaos surrounding the 90-day extension is the latest setback for Boehner, who had made fundamentally changing the process for funding transportation projects a top policy priority for the year.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the decision to push off the vote is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out a bipartisan agreement on a short-term extension.

“We are in the midst of bipartisan conversations about a short-term extension of the highway bill. To facilitate those conversations, the House vote on an extension will occur later this week rather than tonight,” Steel said this evening.