WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives Thursday rebuffed a bipartisan Senate plan to keep major transportation projects humming for the next two years, and instead voted 266 to 158 to pass a 90-day stopgap that senators argued against.
With just two days before federal funding for the projects runs out, the move could set up yet another showdown over a program worth billions of dollars, but coming after recent brinksmanship over the nation's debt ceiling, funding the Federal Aviation Administration and extending payroll tax breaks, it seemed likely the Senate would go along.
Leaders were set to discuss their options Thursday afternoon.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), when asked why he could not pass the $109 billion Senate bill, said his members didn't like the way it was paid for, although a couple dozen GOP senators had no similar objections.
"When you look at the pay-fors in there, you see what I'll call gimmicks," he said, perhaps referring to the fact that it would take 10 years to fund the two-year bill. "Secondly, they just run down the highway trust fund to virtually zero."
Senate supporters had argued the oppositie, saying the measure protects the fund that that pays for highway and transit projects around the nation.
Democrats say that the short-term measure the House backed in place of the bill will cost jobs, because local governments have to suspend work if they are not certain the money will flow.
"These extensions are bad -- they lose jobs," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), accusing Boehner of "kicking the can down the road." Some Democrats, citing state transportation officials, estimated 100,000 jobs are immediately at risk.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said that the House should delay its spring break to pass the longer-term bill, and proposed adding the Senate bill to the House's 90-day extension as an amendment. "I am working with my colleagues to attach the Senate bill to the 90-day stop gap extension and send it back to the House," Boxer said in a statement. "If we can do that today, we can save the House from itself. If we can’t, I will continue to push back to save jobs and stop the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt."
"They are wreaking havoc on the nation with this extension," Boxer said later.
It was unclear if Boxer's plan could succeed in the Senate. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called the House bill a "wasted opportunity" in a floor speech, but added that he didn't think his colleagues would "embrace" a showdown that could shut down funding altogether.
A new measure would have to be passed later in the spring. Although Boehner has not been able to win support for a larger package in the House, he told reporters Thursday that he was close.
UPDATE: 2:50 p.m. -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked Boxer's attempt to attach the Senate bill to the stopgap measure, and the Senate passed the measure on a voice vote.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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