By Russell Berman and Keith Laing - 03/27/12 08:31 PM EDT
Unable to overcome Democratic opposition, House Republicans have scrapped a planned vote on a short-term extension of federal highway programs for the second straight day.
The House GOP leadership had called a vote for Tuesday evening on a 60-day extension of authorization for the programs, which expires on Saturday. But they pulled the legislation after Democrats indicated they would oppose the measure.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) characterized the move as merely a delay, and said the bill would come up later in the week and as early as Wednesday.
“There is only one reason this bill will not be voted on tonight: House Democrats are playing political games with our nation’s economy," the spokesman, Michael Steel, said.
House Democrats said they might consider a short-term extension if it was coupled with a commitment to form a conference committee on the Senate-passed bill.
The development was a virtual replay of what happened on Monday, when House Republicans postponed a vote on a 90-day extension of the programs. The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), had said the 60-day extension was negotiated with Democrats, but Democrats denied they were included.
Democrats are trying to force Republicans to bring up a two-year Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support.
Democrats have argued that passing a short-term extension of the current transportation legislation without approving additional revenue for road and transit projects will accelerate a projected bankruptcy for the Highway Trust Fund. The Congressional Budget Office said earlier this year that the trust fund as it is currently constituted could reach zero as early as 2014.
Republicans have countered that they are passing a short-term version of the transportation bill to give themselves more time to create a version of their proposal for a multi-year bill that can be passed by the House.
Boehner had pushed for a five-year, $260 billion that he planned to pay for with legislation increasing domestic oil drilling, but he was unable to win support for the measure within his Republican caucus.
Democrats have been pressuring the lower chamber to accept a two-year, $109 billion version of the transportation bill that has been approved on a bipartisan vote by the Senate. Democrats tried Tuesday to add the Senate transportation version to an unrelated Federal Communications Commission bill, arguing that even with more time, Republicans will not be able to reach an agreement on a long-term transportation bill.
Some lawmakers are pushing for the House to use the stopgap extension to set up a conference committee with the Senate on its two-year bill.
“Discussions are ongoing between the Speaker and the Senate to try to figure out some kind of vehicle to get over to the Senate for the purposes of having a conference,” a critic of the longer-term House GOP proposal, said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). “That seems to be the best path forward.”
Mica said party leaders would decide whether to go to conference.
“We’re trying to get the longer term [bill]. We’ll see," he told reporters.
Democrats said the 60-day extension was still "unduly long" and pointed out that Republicans had still not corralled the votes for their long-term version of the transportation bill.
The ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), said during floor debate that the extension was "premised on the perverse notion that the Republican leadership will over the next 60 days garner enough votes on their side of the aisle to pass H.R. 7."
"They do not have 218 votes, and they know it," Rahall said.
—This story was updated at 6:58 p.m.