Player of the Week: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

The Senate is on the cusp of passing a highway bill, but the House is not. Indeed, the Republican majority in the lower chamber is struggling.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), head of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has worked for months to pass her bill, and passage of the two-year, $109 billion measure would be a major victory for her.

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She has worked closely with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the panel. Boxer is among the Senate’s most liberal members, while Inhofe is one of the most conservative. Yet, on this bill, they agree.

Recently, Boxer said, “We are here as partners in this bill. We are not partners in a lot of things.”

The chairwoman recently complained about amendments Republicans have sought to add to the transportation bill. She and other Democrats argue that many have nothing to do with the nation’s highways.

The underlying bill is expected to pass this week. And if that happens, House Republicans will feel the political heat.

GOP members in the lower chamber have been scrambling to pass their five-year, $260 billion highway bill. Lacking the votes, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) initially tried cutting up the bill into parts. That didn’t work.

Now Republicans are racing against two clocks. The first is the Senate and the second is the March 31 deadline when the last transportation extension will run out.

The Hill reported last week that the transportation debate is shaping up much like the payroll tax debate.

The Speaker’s office has scoffed at such a comparison, but the similarities are clear. There is a bipartisan effort in the Senate supported by President Obama. There is a partisan effort in the House strongly opposed by the White House.

The Senate, and specifically Boxer, has the upper hand. But first things first. Boxer, along with Inhofe, must pass their bill before they try to force the House’s hand.