After several years, House gets on road to long-term highway bill

What's more, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said he would write a letter to House GOP leaders asking for an immediate conference with the Senate, which has passed a two-year bill with bipartisan support.

"Today we will go take this to conference," Mica said on the floor. And when asked by Democrats whether he would help with the letter asking for a conference, Mica said, "Not only will I sign the letter, I will draft the letter asking … going to conference and appointment of conferees."

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Earlier in the debate, several Democrats indicated they would support the bill, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said his impression was that supporting this last extension would lead toward a multi-year extension.

"Taking the other side at their word, that they are serious about moving the process forward, and I'm beginning to think that may be a likely scenario, passage of this extension of current law through the end of the fiscal year will allow us to go to conference with the other body on their bipartisan multi-year bill which passed with the support of three-quarters of the Senate," he said.

Democrats had recoiled against the House GOP's original plan, which they said would gut spending on key highway funding priorities. But they welcomed the short-term extension for not including these cuts.

The bill does contain language that would require approval of the Keystone oil pipeline, although this is language that could fall out during the House-Senate conference.

Democrats also indicated they could support some of the three amendments up for a vote later Wednesday, before the extension is approved.

One of these, from Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), would ensure that the harbor maintenance tax is used only for the Army Corps of engineers for dredging purposes.

Rahall said he could also support an amendment from Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) that would ease Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants.

The third, from Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), is meant to speed up environmental approval of highway projects.