Pelosi: Pray for transportation bill

As the two chambers stand deadlocked over highway funding, the top House Democrat quipped Thursday that lawmakers might need divine intervention to secure a long-term solution this year.

Both the House and Senate on Thursday passed a 90-day extension of the highway trust fund after House Republican leaders failed to rally support for their five-year bill and declined to take up the Senate's two-year proposal, which passed the upper chamber with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this month.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it's "almost a dereliction of duty" that House Republicans have allowed the debate to run this long and wondered aloud how anything will change when Congress revisits the issue after their two-week spring break.

"What's going to happen after we come back? What miracle is going to happen? What enlightenment is going to come upon us that they will finally be able to pass a bill?" Pelosi asked during a press briefing in the Capitol. "I'm a big believer in prayer and I engage in it, but I don't use it for legislation.

"But maybe that's what we need to do."

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made transportation a top priority this year, but so far he hasn't been able to convince even his own caucus that his five-year, $260 billion reauthorization proposal is worth supporting. Centrist Republicans contend the bill is too small, while many conservatives maintain it's too generous.

The Senate has made more progress, passing a two-year, $109 billion highway bill a few weeks ago. Sponsored by liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and conservative Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the bill attracted 74 votes, including 22 Republicans.

The debate is reminiscent of the battle over a payroll tax extension in December, when House Republicans stood on an island in opposition to a proposal supported by President Obama, many Senate Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate.

Pelosi noted Thursday that Boehner and the Republicans came out badly in that fight.

"It was only the [House] Republicans, painting themselves in the extreme, who opposed it, opposed it, opposed it, until it became too hot to handle," she said. "They're doing the exact same thing [with transportation]."

Pelosi also took a page from the Republican playbook, noting that GOP leaders have accused Democrats of creating "uncertainty" in the economy and wondering why Boehner wouldn't endorse the certainty that would come with passage of the Senate's two-year bill.

"Every day that they kick the can, more jobs are lost, the cost to the taxpayer goes up, and small businesses suffer for lack of … being part of these projects," she said.

In lieu of taking up the Senate version, Pelosi urged GOP leaders to "pass your own bill" to get the process moving.

"Horrible as it is," she said, "at least it takes us to conference."