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House Shifts Highway Bill Onus to Senate

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
The House passed a short-term transportation measure 266-158. The Senate is expected to take up the measure this afternoon.

With lawmakers chomping at the bit to leave Washington, D.C., for the Easter recess, the House today passed, 266-158, a 90-day highway extension bill to avert a shutdown of key federal transportation programs.

The Senate is expected to clear the House extension after receiving it this afternoon.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said today before the House vote that it was yet to be seen if the House could pass an extension, but we wont let it expire.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) also indicated that the Senate would likely clear the extension.

But he stressed that the House could avoid any question of a shutdown by passing the bill approved 74-22 by the Senate earlier this month. The Senate-passed transportation package would extend the program for two years and provide $109 billion.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has struggled all week to pass a short-term extension, first offering up a 90-day version Monday before Democratic opposition forced him to modify it to 60 days.

But Democrats continued to hold out, demanding the House take up the Senates bipartisan two-year bill. Democratic support for the proposed extensions was crucial because Boehner hoped to bring up both bills on the suspension calendar, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

With Democrats unwilling to back his play, Boehner on Wednesday ordered Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) to introduce a new 60-day bill but to do so through the Rules Committee, which would mean he would only need 218 votes to pass it.

But within hours, Boehner reversed course again and instructed Mica to introduce yet another 90-day version and to submit it to the Rules Committee.

Once viewed at Boehners signature policy effort of his first term as Speaker, transportation legislation has increasingly become the bane of the majoritys existence and Republicans have struggled for months to come to an agreement among themselves on what a highway bill should look like. At one point, Boehner said that if his caucus could not coalesce around an approach, he would take up the Senates measure. He has since backed off those comments.

Prior to todays vote, Boehner told reporters, When we get back well move quickly to this ... were putting the final touches on the bill.

But even if a short-term extension is now all but certain, Democrats werent letting up the pressure on Boehner.

We are trying to get them to focus in passing a reauthorization bill, Cardin said. We think it should be done today. We will look at the reality of what they do and try to respond.

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