Down to wire on high­way, tran­sit bill

Boehner sets up vote on stop­gap

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

Af­ter strug­gling for weeks to write a trans­porta­tion bill, House Speaker John A. Boehner has set up a show­down vote Thurs­day on a stop­gap mea­sure to keep fed­eral high­way and tran­sit pro­grams run­ning be­yond this week­end.

The move — which comes af­ter three days of last-minute ef­forts at a deal — is far from a sure thing. Democrats op­pose the Ohio Re­pub­li­can’s pro­posed 90-day fund­ing ex­ten­sion, and dis­sen­sion within his party’s ranks could cause prob­lems for Mr. Boehner.

But with fund­ing for fed­eral trans­porta­tion projects set to ex­pire Sun­day un­less Congress acts, the speaker is hop­ing enough Democrats sup­port the bill to push it over the fin­ish line.

“It re­mains Democrats’ choice as to whether to work in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion or to play po­lit­i­cal games with our coun­try’s econ­omy,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

But Mr. Boehner finds him­self in un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory.

Last year, his first as speaker, the House usu­ally was the cham­ber that passed a bill and sent it to the Se­nate, where Democrats strug­gled to match it with their own al­ter­na­tive.

This time, the Se­nate has passed a two-year, $109 bil­lion trans­porta­tion plan on a strong bi­par­ti­san vote. Mean­while, House Repub­li­cans have been un­able to wran­gle the votes for an al­ter­na­tive, dam­ag­ing their ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion.

That’s given Democrats am­mu­ni­tion to blame Mr. Boehner should a deal fall through and high­way projects screech to a halt.

“Once again, we’re fac­ing the specter of an un­nec­es­sary shut­down be­cause of the in­tran­si­gence of the House GOP cau­cus,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat. “Speaker Boehner has once again been painted in a corner by the tea-party wing of his cau­cus, which is com­mit­ted to block­ing a re­spon­si­ble high­way bill.”

Mr. Boehner’s party col­leagues ear­lier this year re­jected his pro­posed fiveyear, $260 bil­lion trans­porta­tion bill even be­fore he could bring it to the floor for a vote. Some Repub­li­cans said the mea­sure — drafted by House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man John L. Mica, Florida Re­pub­li­can — was too big and ex­pen­sive. Oth­ers com­plained it cut too much from fa­vored projects in their dis­tricts.

Mr. Boehner then sug­gested he would ac­cept the Se­nate’s ver­sion. He later backed off af­ter con­ser­va­tives in his ranks balked at the prospect of en­dors­ing leg­is­la­tion from the Demo­crat­ic­con­trolled Se­nate.

The speaker then floated a pro­posed 90-day fund­ing ex­ten­sion on Mon­day but with­drew it amid ob­jec­tions from Democrats, who are push­ing for a longterm deal. A 60-day ex­ten­sion pro­posal met a sim­i­lar fate on Tues­day.

Democrats are leery of agree­ing to a tem­po­rary deal be­cause it would buy House Re­pub­li­can lead­ers time to take an­other crack at draft­ing their own longterm deal.

Repub­li­cans say Democrats have re­neged on an ear­lier prom­ise to ac­cept a 90-day deal. “Democrats moved the goal­posts,” Mr. Steel said.

But with no time left to draft a new long-term trans­porta­tion bill be­fore fund­ing ex­pires, Mr. Boehner is faced with two un­palat­able op­tions should his 90-day pro­posal fail; ac­cept­ing the Se­nate plan or let high­way fund­ing ex­pire.

Bring­ing the Se­nate bill to the House floor risks a re­volt from his con­ser­va­tive tea-party fac­tion, and it would pass only with the sup­port of Democrats — re­sult­ing in a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory for Democrats.

Do­ing noth­ing would halt high­way and tran­sit con­struc­tion projects na­tion­wide — a move that would ad­versely af­fect 3 mil­lion jobs, Democrats say.

Se­nate Democrats hit Mr. Boehner hard Wed­nes­day for his re­fusal to take up the Se­nate bill, in­tro­duc­ing a “count­down clock” to high­light the con­se­quences of fail­ing to re­new trans­porta­tion fund­ing.

“We are mov­ing to­ward a very dan­ger­ous mo­ment here,” said Sen. Bar­bara Boxer, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who cowrote the Se­nate trans­porta­tion bill with Sen. James M. In­hofe, Ok­la­homa Re­pub­li­can. “I say to Speaker Boehner, you’re the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Repub­li­cans. Reach out to all your col­leagues.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Charles E. Schumer points to a count­down clock on the trans­porta­tion bill on Capi­tol Hill, push­ing the House to pass the Se­nate bill. Sens. Mark Begich and Bar­bara Boxer are be­hind him. “Speaker [John A.] Boehner has once again been painted in a corner by the tea-party wing of his cau­cus,” Mr. Schumer said Wed­nes­day.

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