With the deadline for acting on a transportation bill approaching at the end of this week, Democrats are ramping up the pressure on Republicans to take up the Senate-passed bill or something similar.
In some ways, it appears to be working. House Republicans continued to resist Democrats’ pressure, but for the second time in two days, GOP leaders had to delay a short-term extension of highway programs after House Democrats threatened to withhold their votes.
GOP leaders needed Democratic votes because they sought to pass the measure under suspension of the rules, a move that is typically reserved for noncontroversial measures and requires a two-thirds vote for passage.
On Monday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was forced to scrap a plan to pass a 90-day extension after Democratic leaders began whipping against it.
On Tuesday, Boehner opted to bring a 60-day bill to the floor, a measure that Senate Democrats had been expected to take up if the House continued to refuse to move on the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.
But House Democrats, who have been closely coordinating with Senate Democrats, again came out blazing. “I reject the 60-day [extension] when we can do so much more,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said on the floor, demanding that Republicans bring the Senate’s version of the bill to the floor.
Boehner is in a difficult position. According to Republicans, he remains committed to passing a multiyear transportation bill that includes significant reforms to highway and transit programs, and he strongly opposes any discussion of passing the Senate measure, even though he previously indicated he would bring it up and pass it if House Republicans could not coalesce around a different version.
But how long he can hold out is unclear. Democrats have shown no willingness to negotiate with him, given the Senate bill’s strong bipartisan support. The measure passed the Senate earlier this month, 74-22.
And, an increasing number of House Republicans are beginning to say the House should take up the Senate bill, aides said.
Republican Reps. Robert Dold (Ill.), Judy Biggert (Ill.) and Charles Bass (N.H.) signed on to a letter Monday with Democrats calling for House leaders to take up the Senate transportation measure.
House Republicans leaders have struggled to pass a transportation bill this year and continue to discuss options within their caucus.
Initially they pushed for a $260 billion, five-year package funded by oil and gas drilling revenue. But they changed course after conservatives panned the proposal as too costly. They also explored passing an 18-month package and have yet to work out a path forward.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.