Boehner: GOP sour on short-term highway bill

Rank-and-file House Republicans weren’t keen on passing a long-term transportation bill, and they aren’t much more supportive of a shorter-term measure, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday.

Opposition to a five-year, $260 billion highway bill forced Boehner back to the drawing board last week, and he said GOP lawmakers had not warmed to an 18-month extension that party leaders had floated instead.

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With federal programs set to expire March 31, House leaders don’t appear any closer to finding a measure that can win broad-based approval.

“There is no readying of a bill,” Boehner told reporters when asked about reports that Republican leaders were preparing an 18-month highway measure. “Apparently our members don’t think too highly of it,” he said of the shorter extension. “I would only look at it as a fallback measure.”

The broader highway bill, a top jobs priority for the Speaker, fell apart after conservatives complained about the cost and centrist Republicans opposed cuts to mass transit programs. Democrats soured on the legislation early on, forcing Boehner to find 218 votes for a transportation bill that has historically drawn bipartisan support.

“We’ve got to do this in the right way,” he said during his weekly press conference. “We’ve had five-year, six-year reauthorizations of the highway bill. I think it’s important for the states and for those who want to invest in this arena to have a broad variety, so they know where we’re going, and a five-year bill is the best way to get there. Whether we can achieve that, given the differences, we’ll see.”

The Senate is advancing a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, but members in both parties have said a stopgap extension may be needed with the deadline a month away.

Boehner described the challenges he needed to overcome as “very difficult.”

“When you look at the fact that we’re trying to fund 116 federal government programs out of the Highway Trust Fund, you can understand why we haven’t had sufficient resources to actually repair our roads and bridges, because we’re funding all kinds of beautification projects, ballparks in the past, parking garages… “You can go down the whole long list of nonsense that was there,” he said. “So when you begin to reform this process, take away the earmarks, consolidate the number of programs and try to focus it, you can imagine you’re breaking an awful lot of China. It’s been very difficult.”