The House on Thursday voted 266 to 158 to extend federal surface transportation authority by 90 days, a major step in averting a shutdown that would furlough 3,500 federal workers and put 130,000 federal highway projects at risk. The bill now moves to the Senate, where leaders and aides have indicated privately that they won’t stand in the way of the extension. Federal authority to fund highway and bridge construction expires on Saturday.
Democrats in the House protested the extension, saying the House should instead vote on a Senate-passed measure that would fund highway and road maintenance for two years. House Republicans don’t like the Senate bill, and they particularly don’t like having it forced down their throats. But they also acknowledged they are having difficulty in their own caucus coming to agreement on an alternative. They managed to come together, at least, by supporting the 90-day extension.
The Senate is expected to pass the extension on a voice vote later on Thursday. Negotiations will then begin between the two chambers about how to reconcile a developing, and as-yet undefined, House transportation proposal with the Senate bill. There is a gentlemen’s agreement between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to set up some kind of conference committee at the same time the House is finishing its bill.
Democrats’ furor over whether the House Republicans had enough votes to pass the extension turned out to be overblown. Republicans lost only 10 members of their own caucus, who voted against the extension. Moreover, 37 Democrats went against their own leaders’ instructions to oppose the bill and voted for it.
“I feel great,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., after the vote. House leaders say they will vote on a House version of the surface transportation bill as soon as it is ready when they return from their two-week break.
Dan Friedman contributed