Mikulski: Transport bill's fate uncertain

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said Thursday it is still far from certain that the transportation and housing bill on the Senate floor can pass next week.

"I'm not there with the vote counting yet," she told The Hill.

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"We got 19 [GOP] votes to start debate. We have to work our way through amendments," she said. "We have to see which of the amendments are germane next week."

The bill survived a Republican attempt to send it back to committee by a 56 to 42 vote on Thursday. Sen. Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) motion to recommit would have instructed the appropriations committee to lop some $9 billion in spending off of the $54 billion measure.

Toomey and most other Republicans argue that appropriations bills for the year starting Oct. 1 must reflect the automatic sequester cuts that went into effect March 1 as a result of the failure of the 2011 supercommittee to solve the long-term budget deficit problem. 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine.) is working hard to get the transport bill through the Senate. 

She also told The Hill that she doesn't know if she will line up the GOP votes needed to shut off debate. Collins and five other GOP appropriators voted for the bill in committee. If they stay in favor, the 60 vote threshold should be reached.

Even if the Senate passes the transportation bill, it faces an uncertain future. The full House is poised to consider a bill with $10 billion less in funding.

Given the $91 billion difference between the House and Senate spending bills, a stopgap continuing resolution (CR) is likely to be needed before Sept. 30.

Both houses will need a vehicle to quickly move a CR and the transportation bill in conference could provide that shell.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this month the Senate is not interested in passing non-controversial bills like the Veterans Affairs measure in order to smooth a CR.  

Using the transport bill instead opens up the possibility of injecting some infrastructure stimulus spending into the economy at the end of the year if the House GOP can move off its demand that sequester levels be maintained.