- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

House Republicans are rushing to rewrite their massive $260 billion transportation bill ahead of an end-of-March deadline to keep federal highway and infrastructure programs funded.

Many Republicans balked at the initial measure, as some called it an egregious example of government overspending while others complained it cut too much from favored projects in their districts.

And while House GOP leaders say they may turn reluctantly to a smaller Senate version if their own bill collapses, the upper chamber is having its own problems, as senators have made little headway on their own transportation bill in recent days.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, Florida Republican, said Wednesday he was sharing proposed changes to the bill with his caucus members and hoped to have a good handle by the end of the day on how many votes a revised version could receive.

“We’re going to have to make some concessions to satisfy some of the members,” he said. “But until they finish this whip count, I don’t know.”

But Mr. Mica added he was “hopeful” the revised version would pass muster, saying most Republicans now “feel pretty good about it.”

The initial House Republican-drafted measure would give the federal government authority to spend Highway Trust Fund money for another five years on road projects and to levy federal gas taxes that support the fund, which would be suspended after March 31 if Congress doesn’t act.

The bill included no “earmarks,” or pet spending projects — a rarity for a highway bill. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has touted the earmark-less measure as an example of his party’s commitment to eliminating government waste.

But earmarks, popular with lawmakers of both parties, historically have helped make transportation bills among the most bipartisan pieces of major legislation in Congress, meaning this year’s House bill has been a tougher sell.

Some Republicans also have threatened to hold back support over concerns that many states get back less than 100 percent of the share they pay to the Highway Trust Fund.

The GOP-crafted House bill also isn’t expected to get much, if any, Democratic support.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has called it “the most partisan transportation bill that I have seen in my 30 years in the Congress.”

Meanwhile, debate on the Senate’s two-year $109 billion surface transportation bill also has stalled. While the measure was passed by the Senate’s transportation committee with wide bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats since have butted heads on amendments.

Senate Republicans also have pushed for the bill to include a provision to spur construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Democrats say is unrelated and shouldn’t be included in a transportation bill.

One option for Congress would be to pass a temporary extension of the current transportation law. But many Republicans oppose such a move, saying existing funding levels are too high.

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