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Crucial Week for Highway Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer has backed off earlier optimism about the prospects of the highway bill.

However, several Republicans said it now appears the Californian has backed away from that idea and will instead release a less comprehensive set of proposed compromises to consider.

“They’re trying to figure out how to do this,” a GOP aide said.

Republicans said that given the importance of this week’s talks, it would be best not to lay down a hard marker.

“If we want to get it done, we need to make some real progress this week. And Sen. Boxer rolling out her own version of a draft compromise conference report isn’t doing that,” a House Republican aide said.

Boxer’s decision to back off seems at least in part a result of the efforts by Inhofe to bridge the differences between Boxer and House Republicans.

According to the Senate GOP aide, Inhofe is “working very closely with Boxer and with the House Republicans” and is trying to keep everyone calm and focused on getting a bill done.

Inhofe is, at least for now, also trying to stay above the back and forth between Boxer and House Republicans.

“He’s not going to engage in that game. ... He thinks it’s essential to get a transportation bill done,” the aide said.

In an interview Monday, Inhofe downplayed his role as a peacemaker or facilitator in the talks, saying simply, “What I’ve attempted to do is contact personally all of the Members of the House who are on the conference that I did not serve with” and discuss the need for a long-term extension.

“It’s a mistake sometimes to draw a line in the sand ... instead of just sitting down and talking over a situation,” Inhofe said, explaining that he has sought to impress on the House freshmen that as a conservative, “there is a conservative position in this. And that is to have a bill. Because if you don’t have a bill, there’s only one other choice — you have to do extensions.” And that, Inhofe said, results in “throwing away a third of the money that should be spent on highways. And I just can’t let that happen.”

And so far, Inhofe said, he thinks House Republicans have been open to his efforts.

“They were very receptive to the idea of a significance of a transportation bill,” he said.

Inhofe also acknowledged that Boxer has been frustrated with the pace of the negotiations.

“I think Barbara understands that, but she’s just a little less patient,” Inhofe said.

Still, he remained positive that he and Boxer are working toward a solution.

“She really and truly wants a bill. Maybe she felt perhaps a slight change in approach might help,” he said.

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