Senate leaders praise Speaker’s decision

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday praised House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE’s (R-Ohio) decision to take up the Senate transportation bill or a similar measure.

They said BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE had limited options and warned that if he insisted on a partisan House transportation package it would have led to a political defeat similar to GOP capitulation on a payroll tax package in December.

“That’s a significant step forward,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters.

“Passing a similar bill is pleasing to my ears, and they should forget about the job-destroying, destructive bill Chairman [John] Mica is trying to marshal through that body,” he added in reference to the Florida Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Senate Democratic leaders believe they have the upper hand in negotiations with the House because the Senate transportation bill has strong bipartisan support.

The Senate voted 85-11 to proceed to the transportation bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerCarly Fiorina 'certainly looking at' Virginia Senate run Top Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report 
Democrats vie for chance to take on Trump as California governor MORE (D-Calif.), one of the Senate’s most liberal members, and Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau MORE (R-Okla.), one of the chamber’s most outspoken conservatives.

“The question is will the Speaker choose partisan gridlock over bipartisan cooperation,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDean: Schumer's endorsement 'kiss of death' for Ellison How the candidates for DNC chair stack up ahead of Saturday's vote DNC candidate Harrison drops out, backs Perez for chairman MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader.

Boehner said Thursday that “as I told the members yesterday, the current plan is to see what the Senate can produce and to bring their bill up.”

Schumer said the Senate will pass the two-year package by Tuesday and predicted it would create close to 3 million jobs.

“In an election year like this one, the bipartisan Senate agreement is a rare accomplishment,” Schumer said. “After the Senate passes the bill on Tuesday, all eyes will turn to the House. The question will be, ‘What will Boehner do?’”

Schumer warned Boehner not to take a hard-line partisan stance in talks over the transportation bill.

“The Speaker should remember the lesson of the payroll tax cut debate and not repeat his mistake,” Schumer said. “Whenever he lets a small group on the hard right dictate what he should do, he loses and America loses and bipartisanship loses. We hope he’s learned that lesson.”

Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP grapples with repeal of popular ObamaCare policy New DNC chairman wastes no time going after Trump Dem 2020 hopefuls lead pack in opposing Trump Cabinet picks MORE (Ky.) have an agreement to begin voting on 30 amendments to the transportation bill Thursday afternoon.

Senators expect to vote on final passage next week. The House is on recess next week and will return March 19.