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Short-Term Highway Bill at Issue in House

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said GOP leaders had the 218 votes to pass the 90-day extension of the transportation law.

After two failed efforts to pass a short-term extension of surface transportation law, House Republican leaders plan to take up a 90-day extension today in an effort to avert a shutdown of federal highway programs on Saturday.

“We have the 218 votes to get the 90-day” measure passed, Majority Whip
Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday, predicting the vote could be significantly higher since “once we get to 218, a lot of Democrats” will vote for it.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sought to pass 90-day and 60-day extensions Monday and Tuesday under suspension of the rules, which is typically reserved for noncontroversial measures and requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

But House leaders twice delayed those votes after Democrats pledged to withhold their votes in an effort to force Republicans to take up a Senate-passed highway bill that would extend transportation programs for two years and provide
$109 billion in funding. The Senate approved its bill on a bipartisan vote, 74-22.

Given the events of the past two days, it’s unclear whether House Democrats would vote for the proposed 90-day extension.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said the short-term plan would also need
cooperation from the Senate.

“There is going to have to be a rule and we are going to have to blast it out of here with 218 Republican votes and pray that the Senate didn’t call our bluff and things shut down next week,” LaTourette said.

Senate Democrats were skeptical that Republicans alone could provide the 218 votes needed to pass the measure.

“So far they are 0 for 2,” a Senate Democratic aide said of the extension measures.

“We’ll believe it when we see it,” the aide said. “If they don’t manage to pass it, they will have no other option but to pass the Senate bill.”

House conservatives could take issue with extending current transportation laws without offsets. Transportation funding is paid for by the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax, which is pooled together in the highway trust fund. The fund is distributed back to states under a formula devised by Congress. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the trust fund could run out of funds as soon as fiscal 2014.

LaTourette said he believes there are enough Republican votes to pass an extension, despite voices in the caucus who argue that the federal government should have no role in transportation programs and funding.

“I am not a whip counter, but I will support it,” LaTourette said. He did not support a five-year bill House Republican leaders initially sought to pass.

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