Entries in Transportation Bill (5)


House Approves Another Short-Term Highway Extension

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon to overwhelmingly approve another 90-day extension of the highway bill, enabling the divided Congress to move forward on negotiations on a long-term agreement.

The bipartisan vote passed easily by a count of 293-127, with 69 Democrats joining the Republican majority in support of the measure, known formally as H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012. Just 14 Republicans opposed the bill.

The bill also included a provision authored by Nebraska Republican Lee Terry to strip approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline from the White House and compel the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve or disapprove the permit within 30 days.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, although the leadership crafted the bill without the intent of it ever reaching the president’s desk. After the vote, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed the president’s warning.

“The House is on record again in support of the Keystone XL energy pipeline -- a project President Obama blocked, personally lobbied against, then tried to take credit for, and now says he’ll veto,” Boehner wrote in a statement following the bill’s passage. “There’s no telling where the president stands from one day to the next on Keystone, but he knows the pipeline has broad and bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people. He knows it will create tens of thousands of new American jobs. And he knows that if he continues to stand in the way, the Canadian government will bypass the United States and ship their energy -- and the jobs that come with it -- to countries like China.”

It’s unclear how that rider will ultimately fare during conference negotiations, but Republicans added the provision to ensure it’d be a topic of negotiation at conference.

Over the past month, Democrats have pressured Republicans to vote on the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion bill, which was approved in a bipartisan vote in the upper chamber March 14 and did not include any language about the pipeline.

Instead, Republican sources say the House will use the latest 90-day extension as a legislative vehicle to move the negotiations to a bipartisan, bicameral conference.

Wednesday’s extension tacks on another 90 days to the end of the current authorization, which runs out June 30.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Dems Unveil Countdown Clock, Claiming Threat of ‘Transportation Shutdown’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The countdown clock has officially been broken out. There are just three days left until construction on roads across the nation could come grinding to a halt unless Congress passes a transportation bill.

This Saturday is the deadline to pass a highway bill before federal funding expires but, as of now, the Senate and the House are deadlocked with no agreement on a way forward on one bill.

Two weeks ago, the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill with a largely bipartisan vote that won the support of 22 GOP senators.  Since then, however, the House of Representatives has grappled with its own way forward.

House Republicans could not originally find support for a five-year, $260 billion measure. So instead of passing the Senate’s two-year bill, GOP leaders have been trying to pass a short-term extension instead. That bill has been “on the calendar” every day this week in the House, but twice already GOP leaders have postponed votes on short-term extensions.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats increased the pressure on the House to pass the Senate’s two-year bill rather than a short-term extension. Democrats unveiled a “countdown clock” at a press conference Wednesday to intensify the urgency of the situation. The clock shows three days left until a “transportation shutdown” -- when highway projects nationwide would stop if no bill is passed.

With work on the roads at a standstill, construction workers working on federal highway projects would be laid off, as the U.S. government would no longer be able to collect a gas tax, amounting to $93 million a day.

“Once again, we’re facing the specter of an unnecessary shutdown because of the intransigence of the House GOP caucus,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday. “Should we reach March 31 without passing a bill, states’ contract authority for construction projects would cease.”

If there were to be a lapse in funding, Democrats said, 2.9 million jobs would be threatened.

“Time is running out,” Schumer said. “If Speaker Boehner put the Senate bill on the floor, there’s virtually no question it would pass by a large majority.”

Democrats Wednesday would not specifically rule out passing a short-term extension to avoid a shutdown, perhaps a 60-day extension with a motion to go to conference committee to negotiate a longer-term bill. But they would rather focus on trying to force the House Republicans’ hand to accept their bill.

“The one solution is to pass the Senate bill,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

“The bottom line is there is an easy way to resolve it, which is for the House to pass the Senate bill,” Schumer added.

The House is scheduled to start a two-week recess on Friday, with the Senate scheduled to start its recess on Monday. Current highway funding runs out Saturday, March 31.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Passes $109 Billion Transportation Bill

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- After five weeks of work the Senate has passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.  The vote was 74-22, called at 12:55 pm.

The current federal highway funding is set to expire on March 31. The bill passed in the Senate provides a two-year extension of funds to improve highway and bridge safety and aid in construction projects that will help “maintain or create” 2.8 million jobs in the country, senators say.

The bill now goes to the House for final passage, although it is not yet clear if the House will take up the Senate-passed legislation or act on a similar version.

Senators from both parties admitted that the one area in which the bill falls short is the issue of long-term funding, which was not resolved. The bill does not resolve how to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent beyond next year.  
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Narrowly Rejects the Keystone Oil Pipeline Amendment

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s pipeline lobbying paid off...for now.

A controversial Republican amendment to a transportation bill, to mandate construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, has failed in the Senate.

The numbers may be a little too close for comfort for the White House: the amendment fell just short of the 60 votes needed for the amendment to be included in the final bill, at 56-42.

President Obama had personally lobbied Democrats, telephoning members of Congress directly to encourage them to reject the measure.

The amendment would have taken the pipeline’s approval process out of President Obama’s hands and mandated an expedited building of the pipeline project in light of the nation’s rising gas prices.

“The president obviously has communications with members of Congress with some regularity,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday, confirming the lobbying effort. “We have made our position clear about purely ideological and political efforts to attach legislation regarding the Keystone pipeline to whatever some members of Congress fancy at the time.”

This pressure from the president put many moderate Democrats, some of whom are running for re-election from oil producing states that would benefit from the pipeline, in tough positions with their vote Thursday.

Ultimately, eleven Democrats voted in favor of the pipeline provision, bucking the White House’s stance on the issue -- Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

Not a single Republican voted against the measure. Sen. Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Thune, R-S.D., missed the vote.

This close vote will provide motivation for Republicans to keep pushing for the pipeline.

Moments after the vote Republicans vowed to keep fighting on this issue and said they were “heartened” by the 56 votes indicating that with work this could eventually get passed.

Republicans blamed President Obama for the failure of the measure.

“It was very strong words by President Obama himself making calls to the Democrats,” Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said, "I suppose you can give credit to the president for once again blocking something."

“President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering Senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., said in a statement, “When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

The amendment would have been part of the $109 billion transportation bill that Senators have been debating on for weeks. After a deal was reached Wednesday night and the vote on amendments was held Thursday it looks like the bill will be on track for final passage next week before the March 31 deadline for passage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


GOP Tries to Add Contraception Repeal Language to Transportation Bill

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republicans Thursday tried to put language that would repeal the Obama administration’s mandate that religious entities cover contraception into the non-related highway bill that’s currently pending on the Senate floor.

The move was intercepted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who blocked the contraception-repeal amendment being called for by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., calling it “senseless.”

"I appreciate the Republicans’ opportunity to never lose an opportunity to mess up a good piece of legislation,” Reid said sarcastically. “Let’s do the banking part of this bill. Let’s do the finance part of this bill. Let’s do the commerce part of this bill. But to show how the Republicans never lose an opportunity to mess up a good piece of legislation, listen to this: They’re talking about First Amendment rights, the Constitution.”  

Reid blocked the repeal language from being considered with the other germane amendments to the transportation bill, infuriating Republicans who have been calling for President Obama to reverse his decision on the contraception mandate.

“They won’t allow those of us who are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution to even offer an amendment that says we believe in our First Amendment right to religious freedom,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “This is a day I was not inclined to think I would ever see. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life defending the First Amendment, but I never thought I’d see a day when the elected representatives of the people of this country would be blocked by a majority party in Congress to even express their support for it regardless of the ultimate outcome.”

Reid said the rule on the contraception mandate has not been made final by the White House yet -- so everyone should sit tight.

“Let’s wait until there’s at least a rule that we can talk about,” Reid said. “Everybody should calm down. Let’s see what transpires. So let’s deal until there’s a final rule on this. Let’s deal with the issue before us.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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