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Fight over transportation bills threatens highway projects

By Deirdre Walsh, CNN
updated 6:15 PM EDT, Tue March 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Federal money for projects across the country runs out in four days
  • House Republicans postpone vote on two-month extension
  • Pelosi says House should vote immediately on two-year extension

(CNN) -- With just four days left before the federal money runs out for highway construction projects across the country, House Republicans abruptly postponed a vote on a two-month extension Tuesday, throwing into question how a standoff between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over the transportation bill will get resolved.

It was the second day in a row that House Republicans were forced to pull a temporary extension of the transportation program. A vote Monday on a three-month bill was canceled after House Democrats said they would oppose it and it became clear that the GOP didn't have the votes to get it through the House.

In both cases, Republican leaders were attempting to pass these temporary extensions of the current law using House rules that require a two-thirds majority to pass, which the GOP can't get without a bloc of Democrats siding with them.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans were "wasting time" with the short-term bills and argued that the House should vote immediately on the bipartisan Senate bill passed this month that would fund transportation projects for the next two years.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he didn't like the two-month proposal pushed by the House GOP.

House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel blamed Democrats for the delay. "There is only one reason this bill will not be voted on tonight: House Democrats are playing political games with our nation's economy."

Members of both parties say they want to find a way to pass some type of short-term legislation by the end of the week to give them time to work out differences between the House and Senate proposals. Internal divisions among House Republicans have stalled a vote on the bipartisan Senate bill.

Boehner has been pushing a five-year bill that linked highway programs to approval of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other energy measures. Congressional Democrats oppose that plan, and when Boehner failed to round up the votes from his own members, he indicated that he may take up the Senate bill. But House GOP leaders changed course last week and instead decided to move a short-term extension to try to garner more support for their bill. Republicans want to force a conference between the two chambers to debate the energy provisions.

Last week, Boehner pointed out that highway bills used to get through Congress with support from both parties because they were "greased" with thousands of earmarks. After the GOP banned members from stuffing special projects into legislation, it's been a tough sell for Boehner to persuade many conservatives who oppose the size of the transportation bill to support it.

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