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Barbara Boxer, James Inhofe Try to Jump-Start Highway Talks

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer said that Senate negotiators have sent an offer to House negotiators in an effort to move forward talks on a surface transportation reauthorization.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, “and I today delivered a proposal that reflects a lot of their comments,” Boxer said.

“It’s been four weeks [of talks] and we’ve listened to them, so we got a very warm reception,” Boxer continued.

Boxer declined to give many details of the offer. A Boxer aide said the specifics of the Senate offer are currently being kept under wraps so as not to complicate the delicate negotiations.

“We are waiting for a response” from the House conferees, the aide said.

Boxer said the offer deals with only transportation issues and noted that other issues, such as inclusion of the XL Keystone pipeline will be dealt with later.

“Right now we delivered our transportation conference to them, and the other issues we’ll deal with after we deal with this,” Boxer said.

Other key details also seem to be in question. Boxer said a financing mechanism would be determined, in part, by how long the two chambers agree to make the reauthorization.

She said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is a member of the conference committee, “is working on it; it depends on whether we decide to do a one-year, two-year or three-year bill. They are preparing the alternatives for that.”

The Boxer aide said the measure would likely be a minimum of 18 months.

Conferees are trying to come up with a compromise before June 30, when the current stopgap authorization expires.

“That is the plan,” Boxer said when asked if she thought the end-of-the-month goal could be met.

However, Democratic and Republican aides in both chambers privately acknowledged Monday that getting a bill done before the programs expire at the end of the month is increasingly unrealistic, considering talks have been stalled and the House is scheduled to be in recess next week.

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