House Dems applaud Boehner retreat on $260B highway bill

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Boehner's office said Thursday that the Speaker was considering shortening the length of the highway reauthorization bill from five years and scrapping the proposal to remove transit funding from the highway trust fund.

Rahall and other Democrats had complained that they had been shut out of developing the transportation bill, which they said was usually bipartisan, by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and other GOP leaders.

Democrats peppered the legislation with amendments to revive their concerns on issues like public transportation funding and "transportation enhancements" like sidewalks and green space.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) hailed the elimination of a cut in dedicated funding for public transportation as a victory for transit supporters.

“I am encouraged by reports that House Republicans are backing off their plans to dismantle transit funding," Nadler said in a statement released Thursday evening by his office. "If these reports are true, I am pleased that our efforts to stop devastating transit cuts were successful.”

Republican leaders blamed Democrats in the Senate Thursday for Boehner's turnaround on the highway bill. 

“Given Senate Democrats' unwillingness to pursue a longer-term infrastructure and energy plan, House Republican leaders are considering a revamped approach that would retain the Speaker's vision of linking infrastructure to expanded American energy production, and allow Republicans to stay on offense on energy and jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

The current funding for highway and mass transit programs, which is an extension of the authorization bill that expired in 2009, runs out on March 31. A shorter reauthorization would likely delay the longer-term extension into the next Congress, and potentially, the next presidential administration.

—This post was updated with new information at 8:18 p.m. Russell Berman contributed to this report.