House Republicans now say they'll take another shot at temporarily extending the gas tax and other highway bill provisions, after watching their last two attempts falter earlier this week.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fl.) told reporters off the House floor Wednesday he would reintroduce a 60-day extension, but that this time Republicans planned to bring it to the floor under a procedure requiring a simple 218-vote majority to pass. The vote is likely to come tomorrow, just before the House leaves on a two-week recess.
Minutes later, Mica returned to say he was "recalculating," and that he would also file a 90-day straight extension to the existing highway bill. Mica had talked it over with GOP leaders and said the 90-day extension is what he "was told to do." Republicans aides said part of the issue was that a 60-day extension would likely expire while Congress was out of town on the Memorial Day recess, complicating efforts to get a House-Senate agreement on a final Highway bill.
Twice already this week Republicans have had to yank extensions off the floor after trying to use an expedited procedure requiring a 2/3 majority for passage. Wednesday's move makes it easier to pass the bill because it requires just a simple majority. The bill would then go to the Senate, where Democrats have been pushing hard for House Republicans to pass the Senate's version of the legislation. Earlier this month the Senate passed a $109 billion, two-year Highway Bill with a 74-vote bipartisan majority.
Senate Democrats even trotted out the well-worn Washington device of a countdown clock, ticking down to midnight Saturday when existing authority to collect the 18.4-cent gas tax and fund highway and road projects expires.
Senate Dems have said they have no interest in an extension but have not gone as far as to say a temporary bill is off the table. That suggests a shutdown Saturday is highly unlikely.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not indicated that Democrats would accept either a 60- or 90-day extension, leaving open the possibility that it may not pass the Senate by this weekend. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) explained that Republicans strategy was to pass a temporary extension and the "pray that the Senate didn't call our bluff and things shut down next week."
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