Dems plan to introduce $109B Senate highway bill in the House

House Democrats are planning to introduce the Senate's $109 billion transportation bill in the lower chamber. 

The move, which is intended to highlight the House GOP's inability so far to agree to its own highway bill, follows a decision by House Republican leaders to shun the Senate's measure in favor of a short-term extension of highway funding. 

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The Senate bill was approved in a bipartisan vote, but Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to move his own highway bill through the lower chamber. He has introduced legislation that would use revenue from expanded domestic oil and gas drilling to pay for new transportation projects, but he has been unable to rally his conference around the measure. 

Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter that moving a short-term extension was the wrong course of action for the House. 

“The surface transportation authorization bill is by far the biggest jobs legislation Congress will consider this year,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is imperative that the House of Representatives join the Senate in passing this bipartisan bill and send it to the president before the March 31 expiration of highway program funding or risk devastating job losses across the nation.”

On Tuesday, Republicans acknowledged Boehner won't succeed in moving his own bill before March 31, when current highway funding expires. 

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House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) framed the decision to bring up a short-term transportation extension as necessary to give the House more time to craft a more permanent measure. It's unclear how long the short-term extension will be. 

Boehner has identified the highway bill as one of his top priorities. Boehner’s preferred option was a five-year, $260 billion bill, as opposed to the two-year, $109 billion Senate bill. 

Mica said Tuesday that he did not think the House was willing to consider passing the Senate’s transportation bill, despite the fact that it won the votes of 74 senators. 

“I would say there won't be any vote on that,” Mica said.

But the Democratic lawmakers wrote in their letter that there should be.

“[Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21)] will save 1.8 million jobs and create up to 1 million more jobs,” the Democrats wrote. “The bill also provides consistency for states and maintains current funding levels for highways and public transportation, consolidates and streamlines highway programs, establishes a national freight program, improves safety and institutes performance measures and improves accountability for transportation infrastructure investments."

They added that the two-year bill “passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority of 74-22 and is fully paid for."

“As we quickly approach the March 31 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation funding, I ask you to support this legislation in the House of Representatives to create and protect jobs and improve the economy,” the letter concludes.

Mica said this week that a House vote on even a short-term highway bill extension will likely not come until next week.

Senate Democrats have scheduled a news conference Wednesday morning to ask House Republicans to reconsider their decision to bypass their version of the transportation measure.