03/02/2012 05:43 pm ET

Transportation Bill Heads For GOP Train Wreck, Say Democrats Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats predict Republicans are headed for another train wreck in the House over the stalled transportation bill.

The Senate hasn't exactly been having an easy time with its own bill, bogged down in culture war politics this week with a vote over an amendment on contraception that Republicans insisted upon.

But Senate Democratic leaders Friday vowed they would push ahead next week with measures that passed committees with strong bipartisan votes, and predicted that if Republicans obstruct the measure -- estimated to support some 2.8 million jobs -- they will pay a political price. They said it would be much like the debacle that followed late last year when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to move an extension of the payroll tax holiday, only to have Tea Party Republicans in the House rebel and spark a showdown that they lost in embarrassing fashion.

"I think McConnell left to his own devices would let the bill move forward and be debated after one or two more of his amendments get done," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "But the hard right says no. And Boehner's House is in a knot, so he's got to slow things down."

House Speaker John Boehner (D-Ohio) is "in a box here because he has too many of his Tea Party people who will only vote for a dramatic cut in transportation spending, so he needs Democrats," Schumer said. "But when Democrats demand a reasonable bill very similar to our bipartisan bill, he can't go along, because it would depend on too many Democrats supporting the bill. It's a replay of the payroll tax."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel did not immediately respond to the comments. One senior Republican aide called the Democrats' remarks "silly," and said that the transportation bill would move in the Senate as soon as both sides agree on amendments. The current transportation law expires at the end of March.

Reid has announced plans to proceed to the bill next week with 37 amendments, but Republicans are dissatisfied and have the votes to prevent the measure from passing.

Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- pointing to the jobs that would be created building and repairing transportation systems -- predicted Republicans would pay a political price for obstruction.

"Like the payroll tax, we will win this fight," Schumer said. "They will have to back off and they're better off learning that sooner rather than later."

Reid argued that Boehner could pass the bill in "10 minutes," if only he'd spurn his 100 or so Tea Party members.

"He's come to the conclusion -- how after what he's been through, I can't imagine how he sticks with this -- that he won't pass anything unless it's the majority of his Republican caucus, which he can't pass anything because they can't agree on what side of the Capitol they're on," Reid said.

Boehner had intended to push a $260 billion, five-year bill, but that collapsed. This week he started talking about an 18-month (or shorter) fall-back option.

Democrats argue that such moves, often raised when Congress is deadlocked and in need of negotiating space, make little sense when talking about major capitol projects that are addressed with transportation spending and require long-term planning. The Democratic Senate version spans two years and is estimated to cost $109 billion.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.