Congress plays chicken with highway programs

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/27/2012

U.S. House Republicans said Tuesday that they plan on holding out for a five-year authorization bill rather than take up the Senate’s two-year version. As lawmakers continue to debate the terms of an authorization bill, transportation programs got one day closer to possible shutdowns that could begin occurring after Saturday, March 31.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Republican-controlled House faced a vote to suspend normal rules so lawmakers could get a 60-day temporary extension in place and buy more time to take up the five-year proposal. The Republican leadership needed a two-thirds majority to pass the rules suspension, but Democrats vowed to block it.

The Democrats want the House to pass the Senate version of the transportation authorization, but the Republicans said no to that on Tuesday.

Both parties accused one another of trying to tank the Highway Trust Fund and allow current programs to expire. Should March 31 come and go without a resolution, the U.S. Department of Transportation and programs nationwide face at least a partial shutdown.

“Unfortunately, this has turned into a political gotcha game,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-FL, said. “If this was a professional sport, the umpire would come out and throw a flag.”

During floor debate on the rules suspension vote, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, gave an impassioned speech in which he accused House leadership of standing in the way of a bill that even some of the most conservative members of the Senate voted for.

“Even members of the ‘flat earth caucus’ voted for it,” he said.

As of press time on Tuesday afternoon, the House had not yet voted on the 60-day temporary extension.

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