Negotiators on highway funding bill 'on the precipice of victory,' says Inhofe

A key Senate Republican involved in negotiations between the House and Senate on a new federal transportation bill said Wednesday that a bicameral deal was imminent.

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Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told The Hill that lawmakers would beat the Wednesday deadline for an agreement between the chambers on a transportation bill that was set on Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"We're right on the precipice of victory," Inhofe said. "I feel very optimistic."

Reid told reporters in a news conference at the Capitol earlier this week that it would only be possible for a compromise on the transportation bill to be approved by both chambers if an agreement was reached by Wednesday.

"We have to have an agreement by tomorrow. Otherwise we can't get the bill done," Reid said Tuesday during his weekly news conference after the Democratic Caucus luncheon.

Inhofe would not confirm reports that negotiators had decided to remove a House provision dealing with the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from the final highway bill compromise. The Oklahoma senator said he and the chairwoman of the conference committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), had agreed not to reveal details of the ongoing negotiations.

Keystone has been widely thought to be one of the last remaining issues outstanding in the contentious House and Senate negotiations on the transportation bill. Another issue has been a provision sought by the House to block the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying waste from plants powered by coal ash as hazardous material.

The Republican-led House has pushed for those issues and a series of other regulatory reforms. But they’ve been opposed by Democratic senators who argued the reforms are not germane to transportation.

Lawmakers are trying to beat a June 30 deadline for the scheduled expiration of road and transit funding. If Congress does not agree on another extension of the transportation bill — potentially its 10th continuance — the government's ability to spend money on road and transit projects will run out. 

The transportation measure also includes the government's ability to collect the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that has been traditionally used to fund transportation projects.