Senate Clears Highway Bill Extension

The Senate today bowed to pressure from the House and sent President Barack Obama a 90-day extension of surface transportation programs.

Senators approved the measure by voice vote, averting a shutdown of highway programs set to begin Sunday.

“I would hope that during the Easter recess that the House would be able to come back with something ... or accept our bill, which is our preference,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Senate action came after the House passed the extension earlier today 266-158.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who leads the Senate Democrats’ communications and policy operations, said the House left the Senate with a lamentable choice: “Shutting things down or [extending] an old law ... that throws people out of work.”

Democrats sought three times to attach the Senate bill that was passed earlier this month on a 74-22 vote. The Senate-passed transportation package would extend the program for two years and provide $109 billion.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to the Democrats’ requests because, he said, the move would result in a shutdown of the federal highway program.

He said a shutdown would cause states to further cut back on transportation work and add $100 million a day to the deficit because of the inability of the highway trust fund to collect the 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) warned that she would object to any further extensions and urged the House to take up the Senate bill.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said that move will result in job losses.

“They sent out a signal that America should be ready for hardship,” Boxer said.