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Congress Searches for Road Ahead on Highway Bill

Lester Lefkowitz/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congressional leaders say they are continuing to negotiate on a highway bill although no path forward has emerged yet, just days before funding is set to lapse Saturday.

House Speaker John Boehner, who pulled a short-term 90 day extension off the House floor Monday, told reporters that a bill would be on the House floor “soon” but he declined to provide specifics on what that bill might look like.

“We were talking to members on both sides of the aisle about how to proceed,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “When we have a decision, we'll let you know.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 ranked House Democrat, also said discussions are continuing but he prefers the Senate’s two-year extension, which won 22 Republican votes in the upper chamber and Hoyer predicted would pass the House if Boehner would allow for a vote.

“The speaker has said many times that the House ought [to] be allowed to work its will. We would hope that the Republicans would put on the floor the Senate bill and let it be voted up or down, and I think it would pass,” Hoyer, D-Md., said. “It has very substantial bipartisan agreement in the United States Senate. I don’t know why that shouldn’t be reflected over here.”

Senior leadership aides on both sides of the aisle say that Republican and Democratic negotiators from the House and Senate are working towards an agreement on the length of a short-term extension of current policy, not discussing the different approaches to specific policy elements of a long-term bill.

The Senate passed its two-year $109 billion transportation bill on March 14, with 74 votes in favor of the legislation. Republicans prefer a five-year, $260 billion bill, but have not been able to secure 217 votes required for passage through the House.

Republicans had scheduled a vote Monday on a 90-day extension of current policy, but it would have required a two-thirds majority to pass, a threshold the House GOP leadership realized was not possible given the strong Democratic opposition to a short-term extension.

Current funding runs out March 31.

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