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House GOP Leaders Frosty on Senate Highway Bill

Boehner is cool to the bill, and so are some Democrats. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Senate continues to work through a long-term highway bill, House Republicans and Democrats seem increasingly united on one thing: They're not exactly enthusiastic about the legislation.  

On Wednesday morning, Speaker John A. Boehner seemed less than eager to take up the Senate six-year highway bill. "I think the House passed a responsible approach last week to fund our highway programs through the end of this calendar year," Boehner said.  

The Ohio Republican continued that the House's bill would allow Congress to work on a "long-term, fully funded highway bill," if the Senate passed it, of course.  

"Obviously," Boehner said, "the Senate feels otherwise. They've got a process underway and we'll see what happens."  

But it's not just Republicans who are cool to the Senate's bill. Democrats used their Wednesday morning leadership news conference to slam the Senate measure, which would provide three years of funding — about $45 billion in fresh money — for the six-year transportation bill.  

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.,  said the measure proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "really isn't going to be paid for," and that many of the offsets are "outrageous" and "simply won't stand, not in my caucus."  

"The five or six or seven proposals, all but one was acceptable," Crowley said of the Senate's offsets. "The only one that was acceptable, I think, was the one that says felons shouldn't receive Social Security."  

Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., went even further to say no Social Security funds should be used to bolster a highway bill.  

"I'll be darned if I'm gonna let someone take money that's for Social Security and use it," Becerra said, continuing that Republicans weren't willing "to do the right thing by imposing user fees to fix our roads."  

Crowley agreed that, felons aside, the premise of using Social Security to pay for infrastructure projects was untenable for Democrats.  

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called a special Wednesday caucus lunch to allow his members to discuss the agreement, which was the product of negotiations involving multiple committees and discussions between McConnell and Environment and Public Works ranking Democrat Barbara Boxer of California.  

A vote to limit debate on taking up the legislation into which McConnell plans to insert his highway deal only got 41 votes on Tuesday, well short of the 60 needed to advance. But the Kentucky Republican is expected to hold a do-over vote sometime Wednesday afternoon.  

“We held the vote when we did because we wanted to give the House more space to work on it," McConnell said in opening the Senate. “But some members said they wanted more time to review it before agreeing to talk about it, so we’ll take that procedural vote again later today. And because we’re still determined to get this to the House in a timely manner, we expect to work through Saturday to ensure we do ."  

The highway bill is also the expected vehicle for a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which many Democrats want and many Republicans are looking to avoid.  

The idea with the highway bill seemed to be that Democratic and Republican senators and who want the export credit agency reauthorized could jam the House into taking up the legislation, as highway funding runs out at the end of July.  

But with Boehner seeming to embrace one of his old favorite lines — "the House has acted" — and with Democrats balking at the offsets in the Senate bill, there's an increasing question whether there's the political will to take up the legislation when, and if, it gets to the House.  

Related: Democrats Delay McConnell Highway Bill; MccConnell Warns of Weekend Work Export-Import Bank Has Big Majority in Senate Vote See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.