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Kicking theTransportation Bill Farther Down the Road

Mar 01, 2012

This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted this week that a stalled transportation bill that has been languishing in the House is not yet dead, and that a scaled-down version that had been talked about is even less likely to garner support. But time may be running out, either way.

That’s because the current extension of the surface-transportation programs expires March 31. And, even more importantly, the votes may still not be there even for a more modest bill.

Realizing he did not have the votes, Boehner two weeks ago withdrew the $260 billion, five-year plan upon which he had banked a good deal of political capital. Many Republicans balked at the price tag and urban Republicans were put off by a severing of dedicated transit funding. The bill was devoid of earmarks, which also hurt its cause. Not a single Democrat was expected to vote for it, and President Obama threatened a veto.

Some GOP leaders have said privately that a new, improved, scaled-down version could be rolled out in the coming weeks, more in line with a two-year, $109 billion Senate version that Democratic leaders hope passes by mid-March. A proposal to de-link mass-transit money from the highway trust fund would be removed and a provision that would call for federal employees to contribute more to their retirements is also likely to suffer the hatchet.

Remaining, however, is an already-passed measure that would force Obama to accept the Keystone XL pipeline. But Boehner seemed to throw cold water on the inchoate new proposal, saying “Apparently our members don’t think too highly of it.” He described it as “a fall back measure.”

Most local officials around the country are not counting on a new bill and are resigned to more stopgap measures. But, alarmingly, some states are unaware that some federal money may not be available to them after March 31, the Governors Highway Safety Association told Politico.

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