Lawmakers fail to break US transport bill deadlock

June 20, 2012

By David Lawder and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, June 19 (Reuters) – U.S. congressional leaders failed on Tuesday to break a deadlock on a long-stalled transportation funding measure, and Republicans now may need to find a new legislative vehicle to carry their plan to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

With a June 30 deadline for new transportation funds looming, many lawmakers and aides now see it as inevitable that the controversial Canada-to-Texas pipeline provision be removed to make way for a short-term extension of current transportation law.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could not resolve differences in a late afternoon meeting over the road, bridge and rail bill that could create or save millions of jobs and give a lift to the struggling U.S. economy.

“Hope springs eternal,” Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, quipped as he left his office in the Capitol.

Failure to reach a deal in Congress could trigger layoffs of nearly 3 million U.S. construction workers and increase unemployment less than six months before the November elections.



Republican Representative Ed Whitfield, one of the negotiators trying to iron out House-Senate, said he feels that a short-term extension of current transportation funding is unavoidable at this point, and neither the Keystone pipeline nor a Republican provision aimed at ensuring that coal ash can continue to be used in cement for road projects would be included.

Whitfield said both provisions have been rejected by Democrats, adding, “It’s really disappointing that we couldn’t get this resolved.”

But Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica said Boehner and Reid instructed negotiators “to redouble our efforts,” and the Democratic-led Senate had offered a new proposal. He declined to comment on any discussions of a temporary extension, which would be the 11th since the most recent transportation bill expired in 2009.

“We’re going to take it hour by hour, see if we can get the job done,” Mica said.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said House negotiators were still working towards a joint bill.

“We believe it is crucial that we have real reforms in how we spend taxpayers’ highway dollars, and we continue to support bipartisan jobs initiatives like Keystone,” Steel said.

President Barack Obama has opposed fast-tracking approval for TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL oil pipeline project until an environmental review of its new route is completed.

The House lawmaker who authored the pipeline provision, Nebraska Republican Lee Terry, also said it is now unlikely to be part of a short-term, stopgap funding extension.

“He doesn’t see it happening at this point,” a Terry aide told Reuters, noting Terry continued to work with Boehner to see what other legislative vehicles could be used to advance approval for the oil pipeline.

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