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Despite a number of issues yet to be resolved, Senate Democratic and House Republican leaders met Tuesday to call on their respective transportation bill lieutenants to hammer out a deal by the end of the week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said leaders have asked Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) “to work something out this week on the bill.”
On Tuesday, Reid met with Speaker John Boehner in the Ohio Republican’s office, along with Boxer, Mica and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The Speaker will say the same thing I said,” Reid said, declining to provide any other details.
When asked whether an extension was discussed, Reid said, “The full bill — that’s all we talked about.”
In March, the Senate passed, 74-22, a surface transportation bill that would extend programs for two years and provide $109 billion for projects. The bill is now being negotiated with the House. While the House did not pass a companion bill, the chamber’s GOP leaders are trying to negotiate a bill that can win the support of freshman conservatives in their caucus. Tea-party-inspired freshmen in particular have been skeptical of the need for a highway bill and the spending in the Senate package.
Congress has until the end of the month to pass a bill or transportation programs will lose funds and many infrastructure projects and jobs around the nation could come to a screeching halt.
But a confident Boxer said she was up to the job.
“The leadership wants it, so that was a good meeting,” Boxer said. “I intend to do everything in my power to get it done.”
Mica said he was also committed to reaching a deal.
“There are additional offers on the table,” he said. “We are focused on trying to do a bill.”
He added: “I can’t get into any more specifics. I am always an optimist.”
Boehner said nothing to reporters as he left the meeting.
“Chairman Mica and our House negotiators continue to work toward a bicameral agreement, and they have the full support of House leadership and the House Republican Conference,” a Boehner spokesman said. “We believe it is crucial that we have real reforms in how we spend taxpayers’ highway dollars, and we continue to support bipartisan jobs initiatives,” such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the GOP has been pushing to include in the deal.