Congress could be barreling towards another showdown after House Republicans announced today they would need a short-term extension of federal funding for transportation projects to buy time to work on a longer-term reauthorization, a move Senate Democrats have rejected.
"I'm inclined not to do that," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in response to a question yesterday about the prospects for a short-term extension in the Senate. Federal funding for highway and transit programs will expire on March 31if an extension or reauthorization is not passed.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica told reporters today that Republicans will be introducing a 90-day clean extension to give their members more time to finish their own five-year reauthorization bill.
That bill -- which was once touted as Speaker Boehner's primary objective for the year -- has hit a number of snags over the past months. Parochial issues have plagued the legislation, causing members to reject it because of stipulations that directly affect their constituencies. Some conservatives also don't support the bill because they say it spends too much.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), who is also on the Transportation Committee, said he's "confident" Reid will change his mind about a short-term extension. "I think Harry Reid will rethink that when it gets to March 30," Shuster said, "He wants to shut down the highway program? I don't think he wants to do that."
The Senate has already passed a two-year reauthorization that is currently sitting in House awaiting a vote. House Republicans don't support the measure, saying a two-year extension is not enough. But Boehner has said they may need to take up the Senate's bill if Republicans fail to coalesce around their own version.
Either way, the debate has real economic implications. If federal funding for these projects runs out, workers could be furloughed and some highway and transit programs could be stalled. Both parties agree that if Congress is going to pass a major "jobs bill" this year, this is it.