The U.S. House of Representatives passed another 90-day extension of the surface transportation bill last week, which would provide funding for road building and transportation programs through the end of the fiscal year.
The current three-month extension lasts through June.
So why move on another extension before the existing one nears expiration? Well, for one thing, it provides a little bit of certainty to state transportation planners that money will be available to help cover highway maintenance and upgrades rather than going through the drama of a last-minute extension.
But most political observers on the Hill believe the move is a way to get to conference with the Senate on a multi-year bill that everyone agrees is necessary after the Senate last month approved a two-year $109 billion bill.
House Republicans object to the Senate setting a higher price tag without coming up with new revenue and for not overhauling transportation programs to make project decisions and delivery more efficient.
House leaders are pushing a five-year, $260 billion package. They will try to use a conference committee to get as many reforms from their bill into the Senate's MAP-21 legislation, according to news accounts from Congress.
House and Senate leaders must still appoint members to the conference committee to negotiate details of H.R. 4348.
A big sticking point is an amendment in the House bill that would clear the way for approval of the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, which President Obama has said requires further review for environmental reasons. Republicans are pushing the Keystone Pipeline construction as a way to increase U.S. energy independence and jobs. Obama said he would veto any transportation bill that includes the Keystone provision.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reportedly expressed doubt that Congress would reach a deal on a longer-term bill before the election. — Eric Kulisch