White House backs $109B Senate transportation bill

The White House is backing the Senate's $109 billion surface transportation bill, eschewing a $260 billion measure from the Republican-led House that GOP leaders have offered as their counter to President Obama's call for a jobs bill.

The Senate voted Thursday to end debate on its Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill (S. 1813), clearing the way on a final vote on the measure that could come as early as next week.

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The White House signaled Thursday it preferred the Senate's bill to the House's $260 billion Energy and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 7), which would tie transportation spending to increased domestic oil drilling.

"The administration supports Senate passage of S. 1813 to provide much needed certainty and funding for the Nation’s surface transportation programs," the White House said in a statement of policy. 

"The reauthorization of the programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund is critical to the safety of the traveling public and the Nation’s ability to facilitate commerce and trade," the White House statement continued. "Since the expiration of the last multi-year authorization bill in 2009, surface transportation and highway safety programs have operated under a series of short-term extensions, varying from one to nine months."

The White House statement did not make any mention of the House version of the transportation bill, but President Obama has suggested using savings from decreased defense spending to pay for transportation projects instead of oil revenues.

Obama called last year for Congress to approve $50 billion in transportation spending and set aside $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank. But Democratic leaders in the Senate were unable to garner the 60 votes necessary to proceed with approval of the measure, a contrast to the 85 votes the Senate transportation bill received in Thursday's vote for cloture.

Both the House and Senate's current transportation proposals are much smaller than Obama's original call for spending $556 billion on transportation projects over a six-year period. The chambers both made clear they were unlikely to approve anything close to that level of funding.