With potentially millions of jobs on the line, House Republicans are advancing their last, best option Thursday to prevent scores of transportation and infrastructure programs from expiring this weekend.
Despite a strong push by GOP leadership, rank-and-file House Republicans have resisted the call to back a bipartisan transportation bill, including one that passed the Senate overwhelmingly two weeks ago.
To save face without sparking the ire of caucus conservatives, House Speaker John Boehner will instead punt, and try to pass a three-month extension of existing programs. But even that isn’t a sure bet to win 218 Republican votes.
“We’re just waiting to see what the House does,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide told TPM. “I don’t think they have the votes yet, but maybe they get them. If they fail, there will be huge pressure on them to cut their losses and take our bill.”
The Senate approved its two-year re-authorization measure by a whopping 74-22 vote. But rank-and-file Republicans have cautioned Boehner against simply swallowing it. Instead, they want a more conservative version that the Senate is unlikely to accept.
House Democrats aren’t prepared to provide Republicans any cover for tacking right from the Senate bill, and Senate Dems believe they have the moral high-ground given the strongly bipartisan vote on their version. So it all comes down to the GOP finding enough votes to pass the temporary extension on their own.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week he’s “not inclined” to accept a short-term measure from the House. But given the politics and economic realities of an issue that both sides say involves several million jobs, he’d be hard-pressed to let the transportation programs grind to a halt on March 31, pursuant to their demand for a fuller version.
But it will only come to that if Boehner manages to find the votes.
“In any event, a three-month extension is a classic case of be careful what you wish for,” the Democratic aide said. “Boehner is basically buying himself three more months of chaos and humiliation.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.