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No Easy Pass for Senate Highway Bill in House

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner is likely to put other Republican priorities, such as a budget and measures targeting the health care reform law, before the Senate’s highway bill.

The Senate may have engaged in a shocking display of bipartisanship Tuesday by moving toward passage of a two-year transportation spending plan, but don’t expect the House to follow suit just yet.

Under normal circumstances, bipartisan approval of a highway bill would ratchet up the pressure on the House to quickly pass the measure.

But this year is anything but normal, and GOP aides said ongoing rifts within the Republican Conference continue to make the path forward unclear. Because GOP leaders want to tackle health care and budget legislation first, these aides said, a long-term transportation bill isn’t likely until sometime next month. That means Congress will probably have to pass a short-term extension first.

“Some sort of short-term seems likely. ... Even if we were to just accept the Senate bill as is, there are some practical issues” to getting it done before the end of the month, a senior House GOP aide said Tuesday.

Senate Democrats are urging the House to take up the bipartisan Senate measure in order to avoid a short-term extension. The Senate was working its way through a series of noncontroversial amendments. Senate Democratic leaders had hoped to finish the measure this evening, but ended up punting final passage to Wednesday so Senators could attend the engagement party of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Senate Republicans were less fervent about taking up the Senate measure, but said they do want the House to act.

“I hope they do something on the issue,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), chairman of the Republican Conference. “Whether the House decides to use the Senate vehicle or comes up with something of their own remains to be seen, but I hope that they will act on a highway bill over there.”

Thune said the highway measure is more complicated than the House-passed small-business jobs bill that Senate Republicans are calling on Senate Democrats to pass.

The transportation bill “has more moving parts to it ... and more elements that create controversy than the JOBS bill,” he said. “The JOBS bill is such a no-brainer to me. ... We could do this by the end of the week.

“The highway bill is arguably going to take a little bit longer; there will be some things that the House might object to that the Senate did,” Thune continued. “But I hope in the end that we can figure out how to get a bill through because, in the end, I don’t think it’s helpful to have these extensions that we have been doing and not have some sort of certainty in place for the people out there who rely on the federal highway program.”

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