House Republicans are making one more push to pass their five-year, $260 billion transportation bill, but while the measure contains no earmarks and funds road construction through expanded oil and gas drilling rather than through the Highway Trust Fund, it faces resistance from conservative members who say the price tag is too high.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a closed door meeting Wednesday with GOP members, warned that the cost of inaction would be even higher.
"The speaker laid out very clearly that if we don't pass our bill with all the reforms in it, all the positive things that we want to see passed, we're going to end up doing a short-term extension that gets us nothing or have the Senate jam us with their bill," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.
Shuster is now shepherding the Republican proposal, authored by Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. Current legislation expires at the end of the month.
Earlier this week, Boehner did not rule out the possibility of using the Senate measure, a smaller two-year funding bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support.
Many members are wary of another government funding standoff that could further erode the public’s opinion of Congress.
A similar standoff over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration only ended after a year of contentious debate and a two-week partial shutdown.
Shuster said a shutdown would be felt much more thant the FAA bill was if the transportation package doesn't pass.
"Not every community has an airport in it but every community has a bridge and a road," he said, "It’s important to America and it's important to our majority to pass something and do it responsibly."
Shuster said that the plan, pending a favorable vote check Wednesday afternoon, would be to move the five-year bill along with a short-term measure to prevent a funding shutdown during the week of March 19.
The House and Senate would then be in a position to go to conference and resolve conflicts between the two measures.
Mica told reporters that the GOP conference appeared to come around after the speaker's pitch.
"I came with concerns," Mica said, "but leave very reassured that there is strong support for what we’re doing."
Some rank-and-file members were unwilling to go as far as Mica. Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, a longtime Boehner ally but foe of the transportation measure called Wednesday's caucus meeting "a come-to-Jesus conference" that only managed to garner "tepid" support for the reworked transportation bill.
LaTourette added that GOP leaders stressed that the Senate bill could pass the House, which would not be a good outcome for Republicans politically.
Another member said there was consensus around a desire to not be stuck with the Senate bill.
"Beyond that it's a little murky. Murky may be the operative word," said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., with a laugh.