The Senate's transportation bill bill may be the last game in town.
House Republicans leaders have been struggling for weeks to drum up enough support in their own ranks to pass a 5-year bill. Now, faced with a ticking clock on an expiring law, they may be forced to align instead with a bipartisan alternative now on the Senate floor.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Thursday that the GOP's bill still doesn't have the votes it needs to come to the floor and pass. That's despite last-ditch pleas from Republican leaders this week, warning members that the bill might be their last chance to put a conservative stamp on a debate that must ultimately include the Senate and President Obama.
"At this point in time the plan is to bring up the Senate bill, or something like it," Boehner told reporters. He added that talks continue over the 5-year bill, priced originally at $260 billion. Boehner said a longer-term bill is one "most of our members want.'
But getting enough of them to agree to how to do it, and where to find the money to pay for it has proved another matter. And House Democrats have kept the effort at arm's length.
Meanwhile, the Senate began voting on amendments to its own 2-year, $109 billion bill Thursday, though none was directly related to transportation policy. The most high profile vote killed a GOP effort to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Boehner's comments "a big step forward" in getting final agreement on a bill. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who handles political strategy and messaging for Senate Democrats, said Democrats and Republicans could reach a bipartisan deal on the bill and urged Republicans not to "muck it up."
The Senate is set to continue voting on transportation amendments next Tuesday.