by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The Senate approved the extension of federal highway funding that was passed by the House on Thursday, accepting a short-term solution leaders in the chamber vehemently opposed.
The measure, H.R 4281, now goes to President Obama. It extends the current funding for road and transit projects until June 30, the ninth such continuance of the last multiyear highway authorization that was approved by Congress, which expired in 2009.
Even as they were approving the measure in an anticlimactic voice vote, Democrats sharply criticized Republicans for not accepting a two-year, $109 billion version of the transportation measure the Senate had approved on a bipartisan vote earlier this month.
“If the House had a bill, this would be a negotiation between two bills,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said during debate on the temporary extension on the Senate floor.
“The problem is they don’t have a bill,” Landrieu continued. “They have ideas, they have speeches, they have platforms, but they don’t have a bill. We couldn’t negotiate with them even if we wanted to.”
The approval of the highway funding stopgap averts an interruption in the federal government’s authorization to collect the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which had been set to expire Saturday. The money is traditionally used to fund transportation projects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) admitted that the extension was not the outcome he and other leaders in the Democratically controlled upper chamber had sought.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone,” Reid said from the floor shortly after the Senate had approved the House’s transportation measure. “What we have is what none of us wanted.”
Reid said he hoped that Republicans in the House would reconsider their opposition to the Senate’s version of the transportation bill after the two-week recess lawmakers are scheduled to begin next week.
Landrieu added that she hoped “that Republicans when they go home will hear from the business community, the right, the middle and the left.”
” ‘What are you guys doing?’ ” Landrieu said she hoped House Republicans would be asked by their constituents.
Republicans in the House defended the temporary measure Thursday as a necessary step toward Congress reaching an agreement on a long-term transportation bill.
“We expect that after this 90-day extension, that when we get back, we will move quickly to move a highway bill with our energy initiatives and ship it over to the United States Senate,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said during a news conference Thursday.
“We are working on putting together the final touches on that bill, and it will be ready when we get back,” Boehner said.