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BREAKING: Congress Close to Deal on 18-Month Transportation Bill

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 02:43 PM

UPDATED WITH BARBARA BOXER'S STATEMENT  Congressional negotiators appear to be locking down an 18-month transportation bill-- just before current funding expires at the end of the week.

Final numbers on the developing deal are not yet available, and aides stress none of its provisions are final until the whole package is inked. But aides from both parties  confirmed key details for Transportation Nation, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent out an email indicating that it's basically a done deal.

“I am so glad that House Republicans met Democrats half way, as Senate Republicans did months ago," she wrote. “The bill is funded at current levels."

Politically-charged provisions forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and rolling back EPA rules on coal ash will not be included in the final deal, according to aides. That could make it more difficult for House GOP leaders to secure votes for a final deal from Republicans, who have voted several times in favor of the measures and in many cases insisted on its inclusion in the highway bill.

In a concession by Democrats, extra money for land and water conservation looks to be left out of the deal. There are likely to be further reductions to transportation "enhancement" requirements forcing states to spend a certain portion of their highway funds on bike paths and other non-road projects.

Boxer's email referenced an agreement on the enhancement requirements.  "For the first time, we send half of the funds for bike paths and pedestrian walkways directly to local entities," she wrote, "and we protect those funds while giving states more flexibility on their share."

Republicans appear to have scored a victory on the pace of environmental reviews for projects. While the original Senate bill limited reviews to 15 years, the deal afoot among conferees limits reviews to eight years, aides said. The final deal also appears to include extra money for rural schools and for Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Lawmakers and aides are rushing to ink the deal and file it in the House before midnight Wednesday. That would allow the House to pass the agreement Friday and still comply with House Republicans' three-day preview requirement before bills can reach the floor. The transportation deal is likely to get paired up with a separate deal preventing a student loan rate hike.

Senate aides say it is unlikely senators would remain in town Friday to stamp the deal with an official vote. That means senators would have to have broad agreement to approve it by unanimous consent some time after the House acts.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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