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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.

While Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is not expected to make a final decision on how to proceed with transportation legislation until Members return from recess next week, it appears likely Republicans will take up some version of the Senate’s measure, but only after a short-term bill is passed to give the House more time.

According to one source, the need for an extension is the byproduct of scheduling realities on the chamber floor. Some are mechanical — because the Senate’s bill includes revenue provisions, which are required to originate in the House under the Constitution, the House will have to “clone” the bill. With the GOP’s three-day rule still in effect, the process of even bringing the bill to the floor could take four days or more, burning an entire week.

Other problems, however, are more political in nature.

The transportation bill butts up against the Republicans’ desire to pass a budget before the end of the month or lose one of their politically potent attacks on Senate Democrats. And while internal divisions are also threatening their ability to pass a budget, most Republicans seem convinced some agreement between conservatives and appropriators will be worked out.

With the two-year anniversary of the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation next week — and oral arguments over the law scheduled for the following week in the Supreme Court — House Republicans also want to take the opportunity to resurrect the ugly fight over health care.

As a result, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are expected to bring legislation repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a key part of the law that would set reductions to Medicare payments, to the floor. House Members are also expected to hold numerous events around the anniversary and oral arguments in the next two weeks.

Still, outside groups are hoping to pressure the House to act on the highway bill sooner. The Laborers’ International Union of North America is running a radio ad in Boehner’s district, including cities of Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati.

The ad makes the analogy that Congress’ failure to act forces Americans to play Russian roulette when they cross structurally deficient or obsolete bridges. “A fourth of the nation’s bridges are deficient or obsolete, and the average bridge is now 45 years old, dangerously close the average bridge lifespan of 50 years,” the group said in a release Tuesday.

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