By Mike Lillis - 06/07/12 04:35 PM EDT
House GOP leaders are stalling on the highway bill in order to eliminate jobs and damage President Obama’s reelection chances, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged on Thursday.
The Senate in March easily passed bipartisan legislation reauthorizing transportation spending for two years, but conservatives objected to the size of package, leading House GOP leaders to champion a short-term extension instead.
Pelosi, the Democratic leader, suggested Thursday that the smaller proposal is part of a broader GOP strategy to delay the transportation funding so it won't stimulate the economy before November.
"If they do the extensions," she added, "they're using up the trust fund, the highway trust fund, they are hurting job creation — in fact people will lose jobs — and it's just the wrong thing to do."
Pelosi's comments echo those of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who on Tuesday accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) of delaying the highway bill to sabotage the economy.
"I’m told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that’s better for them [Republicans],” Reid said. "I hope that that's not true."
Cantor's office strongly disputed that charge, calling it ”ridiculous and patently false.”
“Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work,” Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said.
Twenty-two GOP senators voted in March in favor of the chamber's two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, which also has the support of conservative business lobbying groups, most notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who earlier this year failed to rally his caucus behind his own highway bill — has declined to take it up.
Instead, GOP leaders passed a bill that funds highway projects through Sept. 30 with hopes of ironing out the differences between the two chamber's bills in a conference committee.
Without congressional action, the government loses the authority to spend highway money at the end of June.
On Tuesday, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) — the co-sponsors of the upper chamber's bill — hand-delivered a revised version of their highway proposal to House Republicans. The changes, they said, are designed to alleviate the major concerns voiced by House conservatives.
Adding to urgency of the debate, the private sector hired only 82,000 new workers in May, the Labor Department reported last week. Combined with the 13,000 public sector jobs that were lost, the economy created only 69,000 for the month — the lowest figure in a year, and far fewer than analysts had predicted.
Many of the job losses came in the construction industry, fueling the Democrats' push for to pass a highway bill quickly.
"It would take us 15 minutes to pass the transportation bill, putting those people back to work," Pelosi said. "This is irresponsible, it's immature and it's unfair to America's workers."
Pelosi on Wednesday wrote a letter to Boehner asking GOP leaders to cancel next week's scheduled recess — the ninth weeklong absence of the year — so the House can work on forging a transpiration deal, as well as agreements on extending reduced rates on student loans and middle-class taxes.
On Thursday, the California liberal doubled down on that request, calling on Boehner to work "around the clock" to wrap up the economic issues facing Congress.
"Don't run out the clock on the economy," Pelosi said.