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Senate Highway Bill Jeopardized

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled a Tuesday vote to close debate on a transportation package that has languished in the chamber for weeks. The $109 billion measure would reauthorize surface transportation programs for two years.

Efforts to pass a transportation bill are coming to a head in the Senate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) setting up a test vote to shore up support for the measure, which has languished in the chamber for weeks.

Reid set up a vote for Tuesday morning on whether to cut off debate on a new version of the transportation package, which now includes 37 noncontroversial amendments that he said were agreed to by both sides.

“So what we have is a bill that is bipartisan totally,” Reid said on a conference call with reporters. He noted that the legislation’s supporters include Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The $109 billion measure would reauthorize surface transportation programs for two years.

For Reid’s gambit to work, at least seven Republicans would have to vote with Democrats to win the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and avert a filibuster. Democrats control 53 votes in the chamber.

Republicans may not be inclined to vote with Democrats to cut off debate because they typically chafe when Democrats file cloture, as it limits their ability to influence the legislation. If successful, Tuesday’s Senate vote would preclude votes on most amendments before final passage.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Friday that Tuesday’s vote will be a test of whether Republicans intend to help Democrats pass a bipartisan bill that would support, or create, millions of jobs or whether they will continue to obstruct its progress.

While the Democratic aide downplayed the repercussions of a failure to beat back a filibuster Tuesday, it could complicate Congress’ ability to pass any highway bill.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has faced a revolt in his Conference over his transportation bill and was forced to scale back his ambitions.

Boehner’s latest 18-month iteration of the bill follows the GOP’s decision to abandon its five-year, $260 billion surface transportation bill, which stalled over objections from various wings of the caucus.

Sources have said that House leaders were hoping easy, bipartisan passage of the Senate transportation bill would allow them to bring that version up for quick passage as well.

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he believes that Senate Republicans are looking to stall passage of the transportation bill to give House Republicans time to find a way forward on their version.

“We don’t know if Speaker Boehner can ever craft a highway bill ... because he is going to need Democrats [to help pass the bill]; he won’t get enough House Republicans to support funding even at present levels despite its popularity in America,” Schumer said on the press call with Reid.

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