- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2012

House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that if Congress can’t come up with a long-term transportation funding bill this month he will shelve the matter until the late-year lame-duck session, a stance Democrats say is a stalling tactic designed to stifle the economy — and make President Obama look bad — until after the November elections.

The Ohio Republican said he has a “lot of confidence” a bipartisan committee of Senate and House negotiators will come up with a multiyear bill to keep federal highway, rail and transit programs funded beyond June. But the panel has shown little progress toward meeting its end-of-month deadline.

If it fails, the Ohio Republican said he will insist on a six-month extension, instead of a month-long stopgap, to “move this thing out of the political realm that it appears to be in.”

Postponing sticky issues is nothing new for this Congress. Lawmakers already passed a 90-day transportation bill extension in March when the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise. Since early 2011, Congress has enacted a series of stopgap bills in lieu of long-term deals on issues such as airline and airport safety, payroll tax cuts and small-business-loan and flood insurance programs.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said House GOP leaders have “actively worked against any piece of legislation that might create jobs or spur economic growth.”

“Democrats have known all along that congressional Republicans’ number-one goal isn’t to improve the economy or create jobs — it’s to defeat President Obama,” Mr. Reid said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has urged Mr. Boehner to cancel the House’s scheduled weeklong break next week so lawmakers can stay in Washington to hammer out a long-term transportation bill.

“What are [Republicans] afraid of?” Mrs. Pelosi said Thursday. “Maybe they’ll do something right before the election, but it will be too late to create jobs.”

She added that it is “irresponsible, it is immature and it’s unfair for America’s workers” not to immediately pass a long-term transportation bill.

House Republicans say it’s ludicrous for anyone to accuse House Republicans of intentionally trying to hurt the economy, adding that it’s the Democrats who control the Senate — not the GOP-run House — who have obstructed meaningful legislation this Congress.

“Sen. Reid needs to look in the mirror,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “The House has passed more than 30 bipartisan jobs bills, which are now gathering dust in the Democrat-controlled Senate.”

The Senate in March passed a two-year, $109 billion highway bill with broad bipartisan support. But the move to renew surface transportation funding stalled in the House, where Republicans rejected their leadership’s five-year, $260 billion version before the measure could even get to the floor for a vote.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who co-wrote the Senate transportation bill, this week presented House Republicans with a tweaked version. Mrs. Boxer’s office said Thursday it hadn’t received a counteroffer from the House.

A sticking point is a Republican push to include a provision for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. It has strong support from business and labor groups but is opposed by environmental groups.

Most Democrats are adamant about leaving Keystone out of the measure and are pressing House Republicans to accept a bill based on the Senate measure, which doesn’t include the pipeline.

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