UPDATED -- SENATE PASSES EXTENSION BY VOICE VOTE House Republicans made the best of a bad situation Thursday and easily passed a 90-day extension to the Highway Bill, sending it to the Senate just two days before a potential shutdown of federal transportation programs and a suspension of the gas tax.
The bill passed 266-158, in a broad bipartisan vote that largely diffuses--for the moment--a standoff with Senate Democrats.
Just hours later, the bill was passed by voice vote in the Senate, staving off a potential shutdown at Sunday's deadline. Senate Dems had been pushing hard for the House to accept a $109 billion, two-year Highway Bill the Senate passed with 74 votes earlier this month.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Senate bill's main champion, fired off a statement attacking the temporary measure and pledging to attempt to force the House to vote on the Senate bill before leaving for a 2-week recess this evening.
"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's statement read.
Boxer did not prevail in that effort, however, and the Senate's vote extends existing funding until June 30, making it the ninth extension of transportation legislation since 2009.
The bill now to the president for a signature and buys 3 months to come up with a Highway Bill that can first pass the House and then go up against the Senate bill for final negotiations. That hasn't happened after months of wrangling between House Republican leaders and rank and file conservatives.
The White House also sniffed at the House's efforts: "While it is critical that we not put American jobs and safety at risk and hurt our economic recovery by allowing funding to run out, it is not enough for us to continue to patch together our nation’s infrastructure future with short-term band-aids," spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "States and cities need certainty to plan ahead and America’s construction workers deserve the peace of mind that they won’t have to worry about their jobs every few months."
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Thursday that leaders were putting "final touches" on a GOP bill, complete with controversial energy production provisions that could include expanding oil drilling and fossil fuel exploration on federal lands including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
"It'll be ready when we get back" from the upcoming Easter-Passover recess Boehner said.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, while frustrated over the House Republicans' refusal to take up their bill, Thursday expressed confidence that they have the upper hand on the speaker as he continues to hunt for a Highway Bill that can get enough Republicans to pass the House.
"He's got to spend time on this" after months of already trying, and failing to pass a House bill, one senior leadership aide said.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told reporters after Thursday's House vote that the 90-day extension provides the breathing room lawmakers finally need to get a final deal.
"People want to get this bill done," he said.
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