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McConnell: Senate Highway Bill Blocks Innovation

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects Congress to pass a short-term extension to give the House additional time to work on its transportation bill.

“The problem with the Senate bill is that it doesn’t address the issue of rising gas prices and energy,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday. “We believe that if we’re going to reauthorize the highway bill, American energy production ought to be a critical part of this.”

The Senate bill would reauthorize surface transportation programs for two years and provide $109 billion in funding.

House Republicans have said they plan to pass 90-day extension of the current transportation law, a move that would put them on a collision course with Senate Democrats, who want the House to pass the Senate bill.

“I am not inclined to go for this short-term extension they are going to send to us,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Thursday. “They are going to have to feel the heat from the American people.”

Other Democrats also sought to ratchet up the pressure on the House.

“On March 31, it’s all over but the shouting,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Thursday. “There is no more ability to collect [the] gas tax for the trust fund, and the trust fund is running dry.”

President Barack Obama used his weekly address to make a pitch for House action on the Senate bill.

“The Senate did their part. They passed a bipartisan transportation bill. It had the support of 52 Democrats and 22 Republicans,” Obama said. “Now it’s up to the House to follow suit; to put aside partisan posturing, end the gridlock and do what’s right for the American people.”

It is unlikely that either side would be willing to allow transportation programs to expire, but it is not out of the question. Congress let the Federal Aviation Administration partially shut down for a brief period last summer over a disagreement over what to include in a short-term extension.

Corrected: 10:53 a.m.
An earlier version of this article misstated the length of the transportation law extension House Republicans say they will pass.

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