GOP leaders renew push for five-year transportation bill

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After party leaders failed to win backing from their conference for the initial $260 billion five-year legislation, they floated shorter versions of 18 months and two years. When those also met resistance, Boehner tried again to rally support for the long-term bill before threatening to take up the Senate’s two-year bill.

Now it appears the Speaker has returned to square one, dispensing with plans to either pass or tweak the measure the Senate sent to the House.

“I’ve talked to leadership — they’ve committed, we’re committed,” a Transportation subcommittee chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said in reference to the five-year bill. “We’re going to make some tweaks to it to make sure we pick up enough support.”

Shuster, a member of the GOP whip team, said he thought party leaders would have better results this time around.

“Last time we whipped this thing, there was a lot of confusion out there,” he said.

Shuster said the hope was that the 90-day extension would provide enough time for the House to pass its bill and go to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the Senate. The Senate measure, he said, “is a bill that’s got a lot of problems with it.”

House Republicans say the two-year Senate bill does not provide enough certainty for transportation contractors, and Boehner desperately wants to include key element of the House measure that links infrastructure spending and domestic energy production.

Senate Democrats continued painting the short-term highway extension as both a defeat for Boehner and bad for transportation programs in the United States Wednesday. But they did not outright reject the idea of passing the extension to prevent an interruption in the collection of the federal gas tax, which brings in about $36 billion per year and normally funds transportation projects.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday that fact would likely cause Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to relent in his opposition to holding another transportation vote in the upper chamber.

"We’re going to drive forward and hopefully gain consensus on that matter, because I am sure that Majority Leader Reid does not want to cause any disruption in the flow of transportation dollars into states," Cantor said Wednesday.

—Keith Laing contributed to this report.