WASHINGTON -- Republicans torn by Tea Party divisions in the House will pay a political price for threatening to stall the $109 billion job-creating transportation bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned Thursday.
The Senate passed the bill last week with 74 votes, including 22 Republicans. Rather than take up the Senate's version and try to pass it before the previous transportation legislation expires on March 31, House leaders have decided to abandon the effort in favor of a temporary three-month extension.
"They are so disorganized, such a state of disrepair, the House of Representatives, that they can't even extend the highway bill. I don't know what's in their mind," Reid said in opening the Senate's business on Thursday.
"The interstate highway system was the brainchild of Dwight Eisenhower, and now the Republicans in the House are talking as if it is some socialistic program," Reid complained.
If the transportation funding expired, it would put on hold thousands of projects around the country. According to estimates often touted by Democrats, up to 800,000 workers would be idled almost immediately.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) argued Tuesday that the problem is that the Senate bill is too complicated to move quickly.
"Well, uh, obviously the bill in the Senate is, has, a lot of amendments to it and a lot of different elements, and given the fact that we are up against the deadline of the authorization next week, we feel it's best not to allow for any disruption of funding, go ahead and pass a three-month extension, and see if we can come together on a much longer-term bill to provide the certainty that so many in industry want," he said.
Cantor predicted the Senate would then take up the temporary bill.
"We're going to drive forward and hopefully be able to gain consensus on that matter, because I'm sure that Majority Leader Reid doesn't want to cause any disruption to the flow of transportation dollars," Cantor said.
Reid, however, did not seem to agree and noted Thursday that many Republican senators, including conservatives, did not have problems with the longer-term bill.
"It's a good bill to save 2.8 million jobs," Reid argued. "But over in a big, dark hole we now refer to as the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives, they couldn't agree on it," he continued.
"They couldn't even agree to their own bill," Reid said, referring to the collapse of an even larger measure that the GOP leadership had been working on. "They destroyed their own bill, and now they won't agree to take up our bill."
Reid suggested that he would not go along with a three-month extension, raising the chances of a showdown like those over Federal Aviation Administration funding and the payroll tax holiday, both of which were tough on the GOP.
"I am not inclined to go for this short-term extension they're going to send to us," Reid said, predicting that the public will again be angry at the House for stalling major legislation. "They're going to have to feel the heat of the American people, they being the Tea Party-driven House of Representatives."