By Keith Laing
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that he would like to see a six-month extension of federal surface transportation funding if the committee of lawmakers that is conferencing on a new highway bill fails to reach an agreement.
The 47-member transportation conference has been negotiating on a possible multi-year funding bill for road and transit projects for the past month, but the talks have appeared to reach an impasse in recent days.
"If we get up to June 30th, I am not interested in some 30-day extension," he said. "Frankly, I think if we get to June 30th, it'd be a six-month extension, and move this thing out of the political realm that it appears to be in at this moment."
Boehner said he has a "lot of confidence" in the committee of lawmakers that has been trying to meld a two-year, $109-billion transportation bill that was passed earlier this year by the Senate with a pair of temporary extensions of current funding that were approved by the House.
"I believe in a bipartisan way, the conference on the highway bill wants to come to a resolution," he said. "So, I'm very hopeful that they'll get into serious discussions quickly."
The chairwoman of the conference committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), sharply criticized Boehner for talking about an extension before the clock runs out on.
“I am very disappointed that Speaker Boehner is even talking about a long-term transportation extension, which would lead to the Highway Trust Fund going bankrupt, when all of our efforts must be focused on passing a transportation bill by the June 30th deadline," Boxer said in a statement released by her office.
"Three million jobs and thousands of businesses are at stake,” she continued.
Boxer has tried to sound optimistic notes about the conference committee's negotiations as pessimism surrounding the congressional talks has grown. She said this week that she and Republican Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had delivered a draft of a compromise to House Republicans, but GOP leaders on the conference committee have said only that they are studying the plan.
The House has already passed an extension of current transportation funding beyond the scheduled June 30 deadline, which would carry highway spending through Sept. 30. But in order for that measure to become law, it would have to also be approved by the Senate.