House Shifts Highway Bill Onus to Senate

Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:57am

With lawmakers chomping at the bit to leave Washington, D.C., for the Easter recess, the House today passed, 266-158, a 90-day highway extension bill to avert a shutdown of key federal transportation programs.

The Senate is expected to clear the House extension after receiving it this afternoon.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said today before the House vote that it was yet to be seen if the House could pass an extension, but “we won’t let it expire.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) also indicated that the Senate would likely clear the extension.

But he stressed that the House could avoid any question of a shutdown by passing the bill approved 74-22 by the Senate earlier this month. The Senate-passed transportation package would extend the program for two years and provide $109 billion.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has struggled all week to pass a short-term extension, first offering up a 90-day version Monday before Democratic opposition forced him to modify it to 60 days.

But Democrats continued to hold out, demanding the House take up the Senate’s bipartisan two-year bill. Democratic support for the proposed extensions was crucial because Boehner hoped to bring up both bills on the suspension calendar, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

With Democrats unwilling to back his play, Boehner on Wednesday ordered Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) to introduce a new 60-day bill — but to do so through the Rules Committee, which would mean he would only need 218 votes to pass it.

But within hours, Boehner reversed course again and instructed Mica to introduce yet another 90-day version and to submit it to the Rules Committee.

Once viewed at Boehner’s signature policy effort of his first term as Speaker, transportation legislation has increasingly become the bane of the majority’s existence and Republicans have struggled for months to come to an agreement among themselves on what a highway bill should look like. At one point, Boehner said that if his caucus could not coalesce around an approach, he would take up the Senate’s measure. He has since backed off those comments.

Prior to today’s vote, Boehner told reporters, “When we get back we’ll move quickly to this … we’re putting the final touches” on the bill.

But even if a short-term extension is now all but certain, Democrats weren’t letting up the pressure on Boehner.

“We are trying to get them to focus in passing a reauthorization bill,” Cardin said. “We think it should be done today. We will look at the reality of what they do and try to respond.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) continued her efforts to urge the House to take up the Senate bill today and reiterated her opposition to an extension because it would result in the loss of jobs.

“These extensions mean job losses now,” Boxer said, and the delay in funds needed to maintain the safety of the nation’s infrastructure.

“They are playing with fire over there,” Boxer said.

She said she hopes to try to attach the Senate bill to the extension, but her efforts are not expected to hold up passage of the House stopgap and cause a shutdown of transportation programs.