(Reuters) – Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress held talks on Monday over an extension of transport construction authority that would avert project shutdowns and give House Speaker John Boehner a shorter window to resolve Republican divisions over a signature jobs initiative.
Aides said that Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their staffs were discussing how to proceed after Boehner postponed a House vote on his proposal for a 90-day renewal of current law.
If no action is taken by week’s end, the government would have to stop collecting gasoline taxes and cut off the flow of money to road, bridge and mass transit projects, forcing the lay-off of tens of thousands of construction workers.
“We are in the midst of bipartisan conversations about a short-term extension of the highway bill,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. “To facilitate those conversations, the House vote on an extension will occur later this week rather than tonight.”
After months of disagreement among House of Representatives Republicans that turned their five-year, $260 billion transport bill into road kill, Democrats want to force Boehner to accept bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate to spend $109 billion over two years. “Allowing Republicans another 12 weeks would do nothing but feed their dangerous addiction to serial extensions and damaging delays”, Nick Rayhall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee said.
House and Senate Democrats fear that a 90-day extension would lead to a highly partisan House bill loaded with features that are non-starters for Democrats and force both chambers to start over from scratch.
A senior Senate Democratic aide would not specify a length of extension that would be acceptable, saying only that it must be as short as possible, as this would put more pressure on Boehner to retool his bill to more closely resemble the simpler Senate version.
But House Republicans are unlikely to adopt the Senate bill, which does not contain the energy provisions they favor, such as approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, and expanded offshore drilling opportunities. Boehner has touted the legislation as the Republicans’ top jobs initiative this year.
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